Updated: Jan 7, 2021
The more I know, the less I know.
Do you relate to this?
I sometimes look back at words I wrote with such conviction when I was younger, and realize now that either I no longer agree with my hot-headed earlier self, or I see the issue with more complexity and nuance. Age, in many ways, sharpens my perspectives while softening my rough edges.
The Torah describes how in the desert, G-d led the Jews with a pillar of fire at night, and a pillar of clouds in the day.
On the surface, this offers visual and sensual contrast: the night is cold and dark, so fire warms and lights the way. The glaring midday sun is harsh, so clouds offer some shade and protection. It’s practical.
But I was thinking that this could also be viewed as a metaphor:
We have moments or mindsets that feel like the night- cold and dark; we’re lost and confused. In those times we need the fire- the light and the heat, symbolizing knowledge and passion, to show us the way.
But we have other moments or mindsets that can feel like the midday blaze: we have such strong feelings and opinions, that it requires some obfuscation. A clouding over, to protect ourselves and others from our own dogmatic intensity. When the sun of our minds is too strong for our own good, and can burn or scorch, we need to shade and hydrate it with balance.
These tools are how we protect ourselves from the poles of apathy and extremism.
When I feel lost or confused, I need light, knowledge, passion, heat, direction.
When I feel hot-headedly opinionated and rigid, I need tempering and humility.
We need fire and water, light and shade, darkness and light: contrast creates depth and equilibrium.
This holds true religiously, politically, emotionally, intellectually, and interpersonally.
There are situations and people who require more fire, and others who need to simmer down.
This was G-d’s gift to us in the Clouds of Glory, which we commemorate with the Sukkah and read about repeatedly in the Torah. The Jews in the desert vacillated between overwhelming clarity and paralyzing doubts. They needed bolstering from both ends.
The Yomim Norai’m were intense, powerful, intimidating. The days of Sukkos are joyful, celebratory, shaded from the direct sunlight. They are a reminder that the whole point of spiritual development is to translate it into practical, physical action, growth, connection, and joy. And to me, that sometimes I need to warm up, and sometimes I need to chill out.