What got me thinking in this week’s Torah portion – Mishpatim – is something said toward the end of the portion. Most of the portion is Moses communicating ‘mishpatim’ – laws for the people to follow. As the end of this long list. Moses goes before God and the Torah says that to Moses, God was an ‘all consuming fire’. Literally, an ‘eating’ fire. What got me thinking is that there is another little more known instance of Moses communicating with God – their first encounter at the Burning Bush – God also appears to Moses as fire. However, the Torah tells us that this fire was the exact opposite — it was a non-eating fire, it did NOT consume the bush (or Moses for that matter).
What gives? If we seek to disprove the immutability of the text or search for evidence of the ongoing historical game of ‘telephone’ that lies behind the Torah, then the appearance of these dual, opposite God-fires may offer helpful evidence. These are not my goals — my goal is take this small snowball of a question and then push and prod it down the slope of my mind and see where it goes …
So, what about all of the dualities in the world? What about the constant parade of two ideas/feelings/natures that seem to live on opposite ends of important spectrums in my life? Often I find myself with a strong affinity towards one and an equally strong indifference or aversion to the other. This constant dance along these spectrums of opposites take place in the realms of the intrapersonal and extrapersonal. Take the consuming and non-consuming fires of introversion and extroversion. Wherever we each fall along this spectrum, we must admit the dynamic tension between the two is essential to our lives. If you would label yourself as ‘introvert’ — it is not only to upon you to be aware, honor and cultivate the strengths that come from that way of engaging the world – but to welcome the spirit of extroversion into your life, as well. Complete with the gifts and challenges it offers. When you, as introvert, encounter and engage with the extroverts in your life it is upon you to do so with understanding and appreciation as to how both of you bring essential aspects to one another and to the larger whole that is the dynamic of life.
I think about the way that the Jewish mystical tradition understands the interplay of such opposites. Within one of the mystical blueprints of reality – known as the Sefirot – there are two distinct and different sides. The interplay of the energies of each side is essential to the forward progress of all aspects of life. Not unlike the introvert and extrovert model, one side exhibits the power of restraint and the other the power of embrace. The energies of these two sides of the blueprints come together toward other energies that can only be harnessed by such a union. It is a spiritual Venn diagram of how the dialectic of life grows and progresses.
Too much wordy, foggy, ambiguous mystical language? Think of it this way … Think of light and water. How completely different they are … in how they are experienced, their make-up. And yet, there are times when as different as they are … say right after a thunderstorm wraps up, they join together at some intersection on their spectrum of differences … and wow, it’s a rainbow.
Duality seems to be a reality. The reality of duality might be two-fold — just like the two God-fires – they may or may not consume you. These internal or external opposite poles energize and enervate. They intimidate and elevate. They motivate and frustrate. So, pay attention – for these fires can both burn you and bring you light.