The various characters in the story of life experience reality through entirely different prisms of consciousness. One character relates to the destiny of his life as one to be proactively mastered by a forceful exertion of his will, while another participates in existence by reacting in sync with the natural flow of events revealed by life’s forces. One character might perceive a room full of people through the prism of his sensory and conscience mind, with a heightened awareness of its tangible existence, while another might experience that same room through the filters of his subconscious, perceiving his surroundings through the lens of his inner world and naturally in tune with its hidden energetic fields.
Similarly, some characters process life experiences through the cool analysis of their minds, able to detach the world of logic and objectivity from that of the heart, while others experience life through the amorphous realm of emotions. That would be how my character experiences life.
Emotions highly define the way I experience reality. To begin with, I have way too many of them.
Whether stimulated from within or soaked up from the people around me, over-feeling can be rather exhausting. While not incapable of rational thinking, a constant sweep of emotions tends to accompany whatever is presently going on in my head.
In fact, I am so accustomed to feeling all the time that on those rare occasions I experience a moment of relative emotional numbness, I start to feel a little uneasy. I then naturally seize those moments to send the following ultra-rational note to myself: “Hila, not getting stirred into tears from every emotional stimulant is not a sign that you have lost your sensitivity.”
The honorable pedestal given the intellect in Jewish culture cannot be overstressed, and for good reason. While emotionalized thoughts can cloud one’s vision and tempestuous emotional currents can leave one feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable, and susceptible to external influences, rationalized emotions offer the capacity to overcome irrational impulses and cold intellect allows one to objectively view reality and reasonably apply logic. And so I contemplate what might be the benefits of experiencing life through the realm of feelings and what might all these emotions be good for?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of British Mandate Palestine, teaches an extraordinarily significant insight in his book Ein Aiya. Emotions, he explains, are by nature fluid, ever changing and fleeting, making them the weaker partner of the intellect. This relative “inferior status” applies when speaking about the entire spectrum of human emotions — all except one.
“I approached it as the messenger of my father and my grandfather, of my great-grandfather and of all the generations in all the exiles who had never merited seeing it — and so they had sent me to represent them… I put my hand on the stones and wept, but the tears that started to flow were not my tears. They were the tears of all Israel…” – Moshe Amirav, a paratrooper at the Wall during the liberation of Jerusalem.
While all formulated from the same watery substance, subtle nuances seem to distinguish between various “categories” of tears, with some transmitted through dramatically different wavelengths than others. Experience teaches there to be tears of pain, tears of joy, tears of laughter, tears of despair, tears of truth, tears that heal, tears that drain, tears on my pillow, caused by you, driven from the depth of my soul, sent from up in the heavens and those to which you are only a channel for the collective whole.
The difference between the various categories of tears seems to be rooted within the source of the emotions which stimulate them. While the entire spectrum of human emotions is sourced within storms of the heart aroused by transient visions of the present, the emotions connecting the Jew to his true essence are embedded in eternal ideals. While the Israelite emotion behaves like all other emotions, in the sense that it too is expressed through ephemeral chemical reactions of the body, its derivation from eternal ideals ensures it as a never-ending well of emotional energy forever concealed within the soul. Ancient tears of an entire people are then ready to surface from the depths of our subconscious when least expected — at ecstatic highs, rock bottom lows, or out of nowhere during a dull moment of nothingness — whenever a chord of divine truth is touched within the soul.
When we understand that our individual subconscious is actually a part of the collective cosmic unconscious, we realize that the Israelite emotion is essentially an expression of the buried yearnings of the Jewish people’s collective soul projected through its individual parts.
These ancient tribal yearnings explode into our world through the emotional impulses that led Jewish freedom fighters to give their lives to free their homeland from foreign rule, as well as through the young Diaspora Jew who signs up for Birthright seeking a free summer adventure and ends up actually enlisting in the renewed Hebrew army.
They are expressed in the unexplainable pain one experiences over the absence of an ancient Temple and the dishonor our people experience today as a result. They are revealed through the elderly atheist Jew who is momentarily touched by eternity as he finds himself weeping at the site of an ancient wall.
While profoundly empowering, at times these emotions can also be burdening. Binding oneself to the destiny of others may put a heavy weight on the heart. Feeling connected to everything causes one to also feel the pain and responsibility of “everything”. The wisdom is finding a way of converting the pain into constructive action that will alleviate it. Peak emotional experiences are meant, among other things, to supply strength to be harnessed for service through the tides of change.
Going back to my initial question on the benefit of emotions, I recognize that emotions, to various degrees, are the medium through which our souls communicate. Despite their potential pitfalls, they can be of high value. Emotions have the ability to transform states of consciousness, to evolve dry intellect into vital wisdom, create intimate relationships between people and to enable us to deeply merge with concepts greater than the self. Depending on one’s character in the story, so is one’s relationship with the world of emotions. Some may struggle to transform their emotional energy into productive action while others may need to learn how to productively channel it. And some still need to learn how to simply get in touch with it.
Yet, there is one emotion that is truly invaluable and unexceptionally embedded deeply within the spirit of all the characters; it is that which exposes our very essence and reminds us who we truly are — part of a great mega-soul shining into this world through a collection of individuals called the Nation of Israel.