A Treatise on the Individual’s Nothingness, and on his Transcendence

Rav Yair Dreifuss • 2018

A communal framework alone cannot provide a solution for the alienation of modern life, the loss of trust in ourselves, the feeling of existence absent of meaning. Man’s longing to escape his loneliness can only be fulfilled with the help of a deep shift in the consciousness of human discourse. A different, higher spiritual approach is needed – one that will enable us to restore vitality and intimacy to our lives.
This is the first of four parts that will appear in the upcoming newsletters.

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Introduction: Between “Aloneness” and “Loneliness”

The revival of the questions of the individual’s place in society and community – the empowering of the ego vs. humility and nullification in a crowd – compels us towards a change in language on the one hand and in the original sources on the other hand. An intellectual, academic – or even ideological – argument, as clear and elegant as it may be, will not suffice. Such an approach cannot access the depths of the “depressed” young man or woman’s loneliness – these youths who wait for someone to relate to them, their world, their feelings, the notion that they have dreams, longings, desires. They wait for someone to “count them in,” rather than relating to them as wisps of air, transparent, absent.

The difference between “aloneness” and “loneliness” is well-known. The origin of aloneness is the ein-sof quality (limitless eternity) of the human subject. It is a metaphysical aloneness at its core, unlike loneliness, which reflects a social alienation. The person who is alone is not alienated from her surroundings. On the contrary: she is made to turn outwards, to be in a position of ‘facing,’ a good heart, responsibility and involvement, lightheartedness and mischief. She has not sunken herself. Aloneness is an individual experience, a time to access deeper realms. There she experiences the secrets hidden inside himself, there she touches something magical, limitless, deep-deep. From there emerges creation, sound and melody, gesture and silence, wildness and restraint.

Loneliness is alienation: the loss of trust and reliance in one’s own self, the absence of a reason to exist. “It is not good for man to be lonely.” A lonely life is one that carries the thought: “I am not worth it and I am not appreciated.” This alienation is not only social; it is also reflexive, an alienation from oneself, from what he is. He is always squinting at something that is not there. He dwells not in his body, but in imaginary, unrealizable fantasies; a scattered consciousness. This lonely man cannot live his life in the deep manner of faith. He does not have that situation where his spirit and soul are a chariot for the Shekhina (Divine presence) in a very real way – where he has a unique presence that fills him with joy, creation and desire.

Most human beings are lonely. Abandoned. Even those that you meet at work, in the bus, yeshiva, ulpana, synagogue, beit midrash, academy or even those on the street. Even those who have a feeling of belonging in society and have fulfilling work – nevertheless they cry out for a greater “emerging to light.” Our survival instincts cause us to shrink our expectations of ourselves and other human beings, and also from the possibility of redemption (both as individuals and a society). We have lost our trust in mankind. There is a background and many reasons for this. Some reasons are unique to our generation, and their sources lie in the spirit and soul of other generations; others have been constants since the dawn of humankind.

In mystical books, the messianic coming is described as a transition from “זיהרא דמשה” – the light of Torah, and into “זיהרא דאדם קדמון” – the light of humanity. In other words: moving from the Tree of Knowledge (self-awareness, reflection, loss of innocence) to the Tree of Life (knowledge of wonders, transformations, longing, prophecy, the Torah of the Land of Israel). The mystics taught that in the days of the Messiah, the rabbi-student hierarchy would dissolve, and the empowered subject will be the source of Torah. But this empowerment will not come from loneliness, from what “isn’t there.” Empowerment cannot come from melancholy, burying and burrowing oneself in the tunnels of darkness and ugliness (those treasuries of our shrunken ego). On the contrary, it will be sourced in something higher, a spirit of goodness. It will come from the mystical, from humility and the ability to listen deeply to an “other.” With the selflessness to “bring him to light,” while recognizing that he is my chance for enlightenment, and I am his.  The mental revolution from “knowledge” to “life”, from exposure to mystery (רזי), from wisdom to desire, from halacha to pleasure…this revolution is waiting at our doorstep.

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