Circles within Circles
Elul and Tishrei are bedecked in gold.
Yellowing foliage in amber light. Swirling piles of ocher and sienna. Time and space dipped in honey.
What is the pathway to the light? How can we, the limited, fill our lives with the limitless? How can we, who dwell in the tangible and mundane, bind ourselves to the intangible and divine?
Shiurei Daas (chelek 2, shiur 9) opens the door:
“Paleis maagal raglecha,” counsels Mishlei (4:26). “Weigh the circle of your feet.”
Concentric circles. Expanding waves. An ever-changing ebb and flow rippling across the surface of our lives. And before each step, before each movement, we must measure this circle; we must be certain we place our feet exactly right.
What is the circle? What are we measuring?
Rav Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, zt”l, Telzer Rosh Yeshivah, leads us by the hand.
The first step is understanding the stakes. We teeter on the edge of a precipice. Any embrace of the mundane, any tilt away from the divine, is catastrophic. There is no neutral. The slightest movement toward unnecessary, un-G-dly purpose is an implied denial of the completeness of G-d, an attribution of inherent value to a void that only appears to exist. Avodah zarah, ultimate heresy.
But who can live with such exacting standards? Who has never wasted a moment or indulged in an unnecessary mundanity?
Very few, it would seem. The way forward, the Rosh Yeshivah reveals, is a deep understanding of the individuality of human nature. The key is defining the word “unnecessary.”
Nourishing our humanity, and feeding our physical and mundane needs, are not extraneous, blasphemous indulgences, but necessary parts of avodas Hashem. Needs are relative to a person’s personal level, continues the Rosh Yeshivah, and one must not leap in extremes. Each person must position his feet correctly on his place in the concentric circular scale: Paleis maagal raglecha.
But what is the extent of authentic human need? With what do we measure? Shiurei Daas opens a fountain of insight into our avodas Hashem.
“Kol hanitzrach k’dei shetihiyeh lo shleimus utiferes adam – Whatever is necessary to preserve the wholeness and majesty of man.”
The English language cannot do these words justice.
Poetry. Oxygen. Tiferes adam. Words that describe the fullness of human nature. Most of us need more than the basic necessities. Few can maintain asceticism in the extreme. The mundanities a person needs in order to experience the full richness of healthy life are all included in human necessity. Rav Bloch lists examples: “physical pleasures, leisure time, social interaction, enjoyment of nature and so on.” We need time to be normal. To laugh. To breathe. To respect our individuality. To be human.
But how much time should we devote to these mundane pursuits?
Every person is different. We need to know ourselves. The stakes are high.
If the slightest overstepping of bounds is abominable heresy, if an individual’s needs fluctuate even within himself, it would seem that we must constantly monitor our ever-changing state. We would need to live with hyper self-awareness, measuring and re-measuring every act and thought against the scale of our “human necessity.”
But who can live calmly and happily in a state of constant vigilance?
“Very few,” answers the Rosh Yeshivah.
Once again, our human limitations, in the context of shleimus utiferes adam, define expectations. In order to live a life of “uninhibited vigor and joy” we must be full and confident participants in the moment. We cannot be removed, doubting observers. The imperative to measure our necessities cannot detract – must not detract – from tiferes adam, even if it inevitably results in occasional error.
The final takeaway, concludes Rav Bloch, is that we must “set before us the truth that there is no real purpose in this world other than ratzon Hashem.” Our lives as a whole must be calculated toward that goal. Not in a counterproductive and obsessive manner, but in a human, healthy and honest way, along a path that preserves the majesty of human equilibrium and respects our unique nature and needs—leading us, step by step, toward the center of the circle.
Published Yated Magazine Sep 13 2017
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