One glorious chain of love, of giving and receiving, unites all creatures. None has power, or means, for itself; it receives in order to give; gives in order to receive, and finds therein the accomplishment of the purpose of its existence.
-Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel (quote comes from Neohasid.org)
A few years ago, I had to give up a business that I considered to be the perfect expression of my life’s purpose. It had to do with mind-body medicine. I was working with very sick patients – something I found extraordinarily fulfilling – and I was teaching classes on complementary approaches to health and healing.
It had taken me years to build this business. It unraveled in weeks. The unraveling began on the day when I realized, with complete clarity, that what I had created was unsustainable.
In pursuit of my spiritual mission, I had completely disregarded life’s fundamentals. I had run not just through my savings but my retirement funds as well, while continuing to rent a very expensive apartment. There were days when I didn’t know if I’d have enough cash to fill up my car to get to my next appointment. I was literally running on fumes. During the last months of that part of my life, I had to call on my Dad to help me pay off my tax arrears.
On the day of reckoning, I pulled out my old resume and went out looking for a job. I had had a career before, and now I was praying that I hadn’t spent too much time away from it to become unemployable.
I turned to everyone I could for help, and I got a job, a great job. It was way below my qualifications, but I didn’t mind. I simply said a prayer of gratitude and continued to say it, because I recognized this as God’s helping hand. It took God and a village to pull me out of my pit.
Within weeks, I changed my occupation, my lifestyle and my routine. I moved into a single room in a dear friend’s home which was farther in the suburbs than I’d ever lived – a move that required me to give up most of my stuff and surrender most of my treasured privacy. But this friend charged me $300 per month for the use of her home, and I simply couldn’t afford anything else. She didn’t need me and my cat in her home, and she certainly didn’t need the money. It was an act of pure and humbling charity on her part, and I fully appreciated it as such.
I remember sitting one day on a sofa in my new place of residence and thinking about what had happened. I didn’t feel any bitterness – only grief over the loss of this mission-driven work that had been so important to me. And I really wanted to understand the message God was giving me. After all, I hadn’t been on a path of spiritual growth for nothing. I knew a lesson when I saw one.
The answer came to me virtually the moment I asked the question. And maybe I knew it all along. I had allowed my life to get out of balance, and now I needed to correct it. I had gotten too enamored of what had felt like my life’s purpose but failed to ground myself in the fundamental, material laws of life.
In Kabbalistic terms, I had ignored my Yesod – the energy that enables us to experience our physical needs so that we can provide for ourselves. Yesod contains within it all that is contained in the material world: our need for food, clothing, a roof over our head, our sexual needs, our desire for procreation.
They say that nature doesn’t tolerate vacuum. I believe that in a similar way, nature doesn’t tolerate out-of-balance states for too long. Eventually, every imbalance must correct itself. I was now in the stage of correcting.
There is a tendency among those of us who are in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment to consider physical needs as subservient to spiritual growth. Judaism is unequivocal about it. The ability to sustain oneself, and to do so well and in a balanced way, is considered just as spiritual as prayer and ritual. For Kabbalists, the energy of Yesod is just as important a Divine emanation as that inherent in the sfirot of Tiferet (holiness) and Chesed (loving kindness).
When we are asked to contemplate the energy of our needs within the energy of holiness and equilibrium, as we do on this day of Yesod within Tiferet, we are able to see clearly that true balance, equilibrium and holiness are impossible when our basic physical needs are not met. And, of course, the opposite is also true: if the fulfillment of our own needs grows out of proportion and we forget to give, then balance and equilibrium will be just as unattainable.