It seems that each of our lives is a string of struggles to feel aligned in the most elevated ways. Finding our purpose is certainly the first step to being able to tap into the elevated space, but because of how hard it is to maintain being in that space, we fall, we question, sometimes we rebel against the truth because of it’s seemingly transient feeling. What we don’t seem to tap into enough is our interconnectedness, and the fact that we are all part of the same being, elements of a whole Soul connected on high. In this parashah of Vayigash we read:
כּל־הַנֶּ֧פֶשׁ לְבֵֽית־יַעֲקֹ֛ב הַבָּ֥אָה מִצְרַ֖יְמָה שִׁבְעִֽים
“The entire soul (nefesh) of Yakov’s household who entered Egypt was seventy.”1
Rashi teaches that the entire household of seventy people are referred to in singular, as nefesh, one soul. And, as we know, Yakov (Yisrael) and his sons, the 12 tribes, are who the nation of Israel stem from, as it’s stated in Talmud Shavuot, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.”2 It says this because each of us has a portion of each other in ourselves, and so we learn that when a person sins, they harm not only themselves but the portion of everyone’s soul included within them. And it is because of this shared soul that we are responsible one for another, as we are like one flesh. As R’ Moshe Cordovero teaches, it is essential that each person seeks the benefit of their fellow, be pleased with their success and let their honor be as dear to themselves as if it were their own honor, since they are in fact one and the same.
Rabbi Meir compared the flip side of this interconnectedness and love as someone who takes revenge. Rabbi Meir paints a picture of how fruitless the act is: imagine someone holding a knife in their right hand and accidentally cutting their left hand. What purpose would it serve for his right hand to take the knife and cut their left hand back in vengeance? We only harm ourselves in these acts; in truth, we cannot disconnect from each other, no matter how great of a facade we are able to construct. 3
The Malbim teaches that we all combine together to form one supernal being, some of us representing the head, some the heart, hands, feet, and other limbs. Every organ of our body is essential and contributes to the whole. The head and heart feel the pain of any other part of the body, and so we must love every person, just as every part of our body loves and is dependent on every other part.
This one scene from a few months ago just jumped into my head when my neighbor came outside upset about something and started to raise his voice to the Israeli building manager. The manager replied equally loud and intensely, saying in a heavy Israeli accent, “you get louder, I get louder,” and so the neighbor got louder… And then the manager replied even louder, “you yelling, I yelling..” If this were a movie, it would be a comical scene, but this was real life. A similar scenario plays out around the world, around the clock. To me, it really illustrates the power we have over each other. When Kendrick Lamar released “…Don’t Kill My Vibe,” it resonated with pop culture, because it was a reminder that we can uplift the vibes of others and thereby our own vibe, or we could diminish them. And this manager spelled it out; he responded in kind, so things got louder, but if kindness led, kindness would spread, and that is the space we need to be in.
In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe teaches in matters between “man and his fellow man” (ben adam l’chavero) that when hatred rises in a person’s mind towards another, or jealousy or anger or a grudge, one should immediately remove this thought from the mind and should not entertain it. On the contrary, the person should prevail over their emotions, treating this person with kindness, and showing an abundance of love. Not only should one not take revenge, but, on the contrary, the person should repay the offender with good, conduct themselves with kindness (as opposed to the quality of “severity” where hatred and anger originate), displaying a disproportionate amount of love, paying offenders with favors.4 We learn from the Zohar from the example of Yosef and his brothers when he repaid the suffering they brought upon him with kindness and favors. So we learn that instead of retaliation, we are meant to “repay those who are culpable with goodness.”5
The ten Sefirot to the left channel the Divine Creation and parallel the ten Sefirot in each of us– the human body and the basic channels of each personality and the powers within them. The Sefira of Yesod in each of us is the urge to love and is linked to the desire to cling to the Ein Sof (each according to the vessel that the person works on) and is a part of the upper Divine characteristic. When we tap into it, we have the power to reveal our interconnection.
In Chassidut, all ideologies and visions are part of the Ein Sof (Light of the Infinite); they are eternal and embedded deep in our souls, and our task is to fan the spark to the point that a flame is linked to the fire Above. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that there is light and darkness in both creation and in man, and that is seen in each of our various attributes and characteristics, pulling either from a side that is Connected or from what is referred to as The Other Side. This is seen in earth-bound love which can be rooted in light or dark, while Supernal love is from the light source itself. The way to elevate earth-bound love is realizing that the characteristic of it is rooted in holiness with its essence in the Ein Sof, and it is just that it fell into the kelipot (negative forces) of the universe which tries to convert light into darkness. That realization needs to motivate a person to cling to the Source in order to connect what’s become natural to what can be supernatural – a Supernal love that is pure. Once we realize we have the power to illuminate and uplift ourselves by doing so with others, we can prioritize perpetual revelation.
We even see this in the 613 mitzvot that instruct us how to be with each other and Hashem, broken down into 248 “positive” mitzvot that require action to fulfill, corresponding to our 248 limbs, and the 365 “negative” mitzvot that are the things we should not do, which correspond to our 365 sinews. As we covered a couple weeks ago, sinews (or nerves) through the brain instruct our limbs to act. Being mindful of Hashem’s instructions of when not to act in situations when we “feel” like acting strengthens each corresponding sinew or nerve, elevating it and causing holiness to dwell upon it. On the flip side is failing to resist the temptation or to perform the mitzvah, and that actually weakens the limb (or nerve), causing a spirit of impurity to dwell on it. It’s this intricate system that paints the instructions of both mental health and physical health for ourselves. But it is the spiritual health that we have to perfect so we affect each other in the best light.
I was thinking about this on the flight back to LA from Art Basel, Miami and started to write, waxing poetic on it. Here’s where I got:
we’re all fallen sparks
the moment before
the sense that ascent
till an end
to feel like the start of
the space of us all
every line that I’ve drawn
that points back to me, to you, to we
There are many Chassidic stories around oneness, but this one between Reb Pinchas Reizes and R’ Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known simply as the “Alter Rebbe”, illustrates our interconnectedness perfectly. Pinchas Reizes would make a trip to visit his Rebbe for the months of Elul, Tishrei, Nissan and Sivan. When it came time for Tishrei, he fell sick and was unable to travel for the holiday of Shemini Atzeret. Pinchas Reizes ended up staying home, and while in the sukkah he suddenly felt shaken and jumped from his seat and proclaimed, “Oh, Rebbe!”, and turned to the guests and said, “The rebbe just now thought of me.” At that very moment, the Alter Rebbe in his own festive meal in his sukkah, turned to his guests and said, “Pinchas Reizes is now in need of a bodily cure. What I cannot give him I do not give him – but a bodily cure I can secure for him.” Whomever at the table who was friends with Pinchas Reizes couldn’t wait to get back to his hometown of Shklov after the festival. Once back, they met up with Pinchas Reizes to drink some vodka and farbreng. Immediately, they told Pinchas Reizes what had happened at the table with the Alter Rebbe and only later did they find out at that very same moment that Pinchas Reizes cried out: “Oh, Rebbe!”.
The Alter Rebbe mentioning him is one thing, but his being in tune with it so much that he too had cried out for the Rebbe is another level. They playfully teased him, “Tell us, where did you pick up your new tricks? Don’t tell us you now regard yourself as some spiritual giant!” He laughed with them for a moment, but then protested, “It’s not me!” He explained how he entrusted the levels of his soul to the rebbe’s guidance in their first private meeting called yichidus, when a chassid shares the levels of their life, both the good and the hardships, and the rebbe replies with wisdom, direction and strength. Pinchas Reizes turned to them and said, “The first time I was closeted with the rebbe for yichidus, I entrusted to him my nefesh; the second time I visited, I entrusted him with my ruach; and at the third yichidus, I handed over my neshamah. Now that all the levels of my soul are handed over to his guidance, it is not he that knows nor I that feel…”7
It is the same with Yosef who is the tzaddik. The story relates his interconnectedness with his brothers, his unbreakable bond and love with them no matter what. Rabbi Menachem in the name of Rabbi Abin said that just as Yosef’s brothers acted badly towards him and he repaid them with good and kindness, we see the same in regards to us and how we act towards Hashem’s will, but still Hashem bestows goodness on us in return.
We as a people are referred to as Yosef. In Tehillim it’s written, “O shepherd of Israel who leads Joseph like a flock!” (רֹ֘עֵ֤ה יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל ׀ הַאֲזִ֗ינָה נֹהֵ֣ג כַּצֹּ֣אן יוֹסֵ֑ף).8 And there is a beautiful Midrash that explains that just as Yosef stored food from the years of plenty for the years of famine, so Hashem does with us in regards to storing up our blessings in this world to enjoy in the world to come (the era of redemption). And we learn that just as Yosef sustained each person according to his deeds, as it’s written in this parashah, “And Yosef sustained his father..”9; so, too, Hashem sustains us according to our deeds and our needs.
The lesson throughout is kindness and interconnectivity, which is easier when one lets go and fully trusts in Hashem. It becomes more challenging when we get stuck in the mindset of the temporal physicality that weighs our soul down. In Mishna Avot it teaches that “This world is like an antechamber before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall.”10 The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that when a person seeks tranquility in the form of material prosperity in this world, they are misjudging their priorities by transferring the importance of the “banquet hall” to “the antechamber”. That isn’t to say that wanting tranquility both spiritual and material in this world is fundamentally flawed, only that the focus should be on the “banquet hall” and never in place of our ultimate mission and purpose, which is to be constantly refining this world for the World to Come. The physicality and fighting that fill this world, the antechamber, are constant distractions, and so we are commanded through actions and deeds to focus towards the world to come (the era of redemption). As Thom Yorke sings on “Paranoid Android”: God loves his children,11 we need to do the same at all moments.