Fixing Your Fire - 010 Anger | Enjoying Opposition
Water-of-Wind-of-Fire: Enjoying Opposition With Others
We continue here with siyata d’shmaya to discuss the trait of anger. Now we are up to discussing water-of-wind-of-fire.
As mentioned earlier, wind-of-fire in general is about opposition. In particular, the “water” aspect of wind-of-fire is the taanug\pleasure (water) that one feels when he is connected to a state of opposition. As with every other nature in the soul, this is a nature that can be used for either good or evil. Let’s first see how it is used for evil, and then we can see how we can use it for holiness.
There is a nature in some people to always oppose the system of wherever they are found in. They always like to do the opposite of how others act, or to think in an opposite way of how the people around them are thinking. They will always want to do differently from others, because their thinking does not conform to those around them.
Sometimes this kind of person will want to think very differently from others around but he won’t act upon those thoughts. He will behave like everybody else around him, but he just disagrees with them in his thoughts. And sometimes, because he wants to think differently than others, he will also behave very differently than others as well.
Understandably, there can be all kinds of reasons that are motivating him to think differently than others. He might think that everybody else just has it all wrong. He might have other reasons as well for why he doesn’t want to conform to how others think. The more a person is aware of his inner world, the better he can discern his motivations, and know if he’s fooling himself or not. But it’s very possible that the reason why he often disagrees with others’ thinking is because he simply has a nature to oppose others. His soul deep down is demanding from him that he should see things differently than others.
We will give a few examples of this from our physical world, where we can see this kind of nature in some people.
Example 1 – Deliberately Diverging From The Norm
In many buildings, there’s a place to enter the building and a place that is generally used to exit the buildings. There’s a sign for “Enter” and a separate sign in the back of the building for “Exit”. Normally, when people are exiting the building, they will go through the doorway that is for “Exit”, and when people enter the building, they normally go through the “Enter” doorway. But if a person is the type to think differently than others (because he has a lot of water-of-wind-of-fire in himself), he will deliberately enter through the “exit” sign, and exit through the “enter” sign.
Understandably, because he does so, he will cross paths with everyone on their way out, because they are exiting while he is entering, and they are entering while he is exiting. If he is asked why he doesn’t just do like everyone else, he will say, “Who says it has to be this way? Why must I do like everybody else…?”
He acts this way because his nature is to always do the opposite of what others are doing.
To be clearer about this, it’s not simply because this kind of person wants to be “different” than others. If that would be the case, it is either stemming from an expression of his individuality, which stems from fire-of-wind-of-fire, which we discussed elsewhere; or it would be stemming from the negative trait of conceit. But with water-of-wind-of-fire, which is what we are discussing here, a person will not just act differently than others, but he will act in a totally opposite way of how others conduct themselves.
Example 2 – Intentionally Learning In A Different Style Than Others
If this kind of person is in a yeshiva setting, where the style of the yeshiva is to learn in a certain way, he will always seek to learn in a different style than everyone else in the yeshiva around him.
If the style of the yeshiva is to learn with iyun (in-depth analysis of Gemara), he will intentionally start up with others in the yeshiva and tell them that they’re wasting their time learning the Gemara so slowly, and he will bring all the proofs he knows of that stress the importance of striving to know all of Torah, which requires one to cover more ground, as opposed to spending so much time trying to understand each line.
And if the yeshiva’s style of learning is to learn in a manner of bekiyus (cursory reading of Gemara, which does not focus on in-depth learning), he will argue with everyone around him that they are learning superficially, and that the whole point of learning Torah is to learn it in-depth and to understand it well.
If he finds contradictions with his own self when it comes to this, sometimes he will conclude that one way is true, and at a different time he will conclude that the truth is the opposite, and realize that he was mistaken the first time around.
In whatever scenario he is in, he will act and think differently than those around him. If people around him are following one extreme, he will go in the other extreme.
The Negative Results Of This Nature
We can bring countless examples of this nature, and we have only brought here a few examples of it. The point is that this kind of person gains vitality from opposition with others, he lives from it, and he enjoys it. It is pleasure (water) in opposition (wind-of-fire), hence, it is a nature that stems from water-of-wind-of-fire in the soul. He will keep finding himself in situations where he is at opposition with others.
Sometimes, having this kind of personality will lead him towards situations of actual anger and dissension with others, and the like. All of that, however, are the results of a root that comes before it. That root is what we are discussing here: a nature to always think and act differently than others.
Holy Water-of-Wind-of-Fire: Enjoying Others’ Thinking
Now we will speak about how this nature can be channeled towards holiness. This nature in the soul, the power to enjoy acting in an opposite way than others, is actually a nature that stems from one of the deepest aspects in soul.
If someone cannot relate to it, it is a sign that he hasn’t matured yet, and he lives with narrowed perspectives. He doesn’t see beyond his own self and his own life. By contrast, the more a person has matured in his inner world and he has expanded his soul, the more he can contain the thinking of others, even when their thinking opposes his own; and with the more he expands his soul, the better he will be able to contain others who are the totally opposite of his nature.
There is a deep power in our soul (which, we will emphasize, is something that not everyone can live with in their life, but it is one of the deep ways of living), in which one can tolerate that which completely opposes his way of thinking.
When a person thinks into something, he can see two options in front of him, he sees that there are two different extremes to follow, and he concludes that one of the extremes is the correct approach to follow. Naturally, the other extreme seems completely incorrect to him. But there is a deep place in the soul which can understand the opposite extreme and tolerate its viewpoint. We have an ability to clearly understand the opposite viewpoint of how we think.
In the language of our Sages, this is the well-known concept of, “There is no light except through darkness.” A person can only have clarity, “light”, by contrasting the light with darkness, which intensifies the light. In order for there to be light, there must be darkness before it, and together, the darkness and light are “one” day, and that is the depth of what the Torah regarding the first day of creation: “And it was evening, and it was day, one day.” This shows that we can contain and unify opposites within ourselves.
The more narrowed a person is, the less accepting he is of how others think, because he remains confined to his own way of thinking. When a person has matured in his thinking, he understands that there other ways to see things, and that his way of thinking is not necessarily the only way to think. He sees that there can be 2 or 3 different views towards something, and the different viewpoints are each valid, and they need to be considered and weighed. He is ready to hear what others have to say, and he is ready to accept the ways of thinking of others.
But if he lives even more deeply than this, he is regularly thinking into the opposite viewpoint of how he thinks, and he is always at the point of understanding the viewpoints of others. He keeps uncovering the two different extremes with which how a matter can be viewed, he finds a middle point between the two extremes, which offers him an expansive view towards the matter, where he can see all the many different colors.
Thus, there is a deep power in the soul to discover two opposing points and then to find the middle point between the two extremes.
Seeing The Two Extremes and Finding ‘The Middle Point’
First, one needs to know how he thinks. He needs to weigh one of the sides against the other side, comparing the two extremes, and then he can find the middle point, which is where he will find the entire ‘ladder’ that he needs to ascend on, where he can view the entire situation from atop that ‘ladder’ in the middle. This is one of the inner paths a person can take, and it is the soul’s power of water-of-wind-of-fire.
For others, who aren’t living from their point of water-of-wind-of-fire in the soul, and who are instead at other areas in their soul, they will have a different avodah. They need to work in a more ‘upwards’ manner, resembling Jacob’s ladder which is footed on the earth and its head reaches the heavens. They start from a bottom level and work their way upwards, step by step, until they can arrive at the other extreme of where they started off.
Applying This Concept When Learning Gemara
Anyone who learns Gemara in a methodical, step-by-step manner, can relate to this. If someone learns Gemara in a way where he thinks that only his way of thinking is correct, he is not able to include others’ way of thinking. But if someone wants to have a more expansive view of the Gemara he is learning, he finds the ‘middle point’ in between two extremes.
How can a person reach it? Either a person can work his way through the sugya and cover all the points, seeing step after step, until he gets to the other extreme of how he started out with, and then he sees the whole picture. Or, a person can start out by noticing the two extremes in the sugya of the Gemara, and from there he can slowly work his way through the sugya, step after step.
If one doesn’t identify that much with water-of-wind-of-fire in his soul (meaning that he is not using it that much), he is drawn towards the first approach we described, where one first works his way through the steps of the sugya in the Gemara until he notices the two extreme points of how to view the matter he is learning about.
Understandably, some people will also skip around between the steps even as they are taking this orderly approach, and sometimes skipping is necessary even within the step-by-step approach. But the basic method of this approach is to work in a step-by-step manner, with some occasional skipping around between the order of the steps, where a person goes back to where he skipped from and then fills in the gaps.
But someone who has much water-of-wind-of-fire in his soul works in a different manner. First he makes sure to see the two extremes in front of him, and after seeing the two extremes, he has a clearer picture of what is in front of him. It is then much easier for him to get to the middle point between the two extremes. Not that it will be so easy to get to the middle point; obviously, learning Torah always requires exertion. But it will be made easier to get to the middle point between the extremes, because he identifies the two different extremes of how to think.
Some people like to find the two extremes in a matter simply because they want to gain clarity in a manner. By contrasting the opposite extremes, they are able to come to the middle point in between the extremes and understand it from there. That is something else which we are not explaining here, and it requires a separate discussion. Here we are talking about someone who enjoys finding two extremes in a matter.
After one has tasted the enjoyment of finding the two different extremes of how to view a matter, he must then express a search for truth, by seeking to find the middle point between the two extremes. When one is concerned about seeking the truth in the matter, he will be very motivated to get to the middle point between the extremes.
If he doesn’t seek truth, he will find himself in either one of the two extremes. We discussed this in the previous chapter, where we discussed one who has a lot of earth-of-wind-of-fire in his soul, which is a kind of person who functions only at extremes. Here we are discussing one who is enjoying the extremes but he can also find the middle point between the extremes, where he sees a clearer and more complete view towards a matter.
If he reaches that point, he sees a beautiful, expansive view of the entire matter from there. Of this, it is said, “Yisrael, in you I am beautified” – the “beauty” that this is referring to is when there is a revelation of an expansive view towards a matter, where one can cover all of the angles and levels and dimensions in a matter.
Finding ‘The Middle Point’ In Between Two Extremes
To apply this concept practically, one must be able to think into the opposite view of how he thinks, and then find a point of truth in it. This is how a person rectifies the nature of his water-of-wind-of-fire and channels it to holiness.
When someone is superficial, he balks at this concept, because he cannot relate to this. He will immediately want to dismiss any opinion that is not aligned with his thinking, and he cannot stomach the idea of trying to understand anything that is contradictory to his thinking. If he does not feel that that opposing view contains any truth, he will not be interested in trying to understand it.
However, we are taught that one of the Sages was able to say 150 reasons why something should be tamei (impure) and 150 reasons why it should be tahor (pure). For what reason did the Sages teach us this? We learn from this that one has to be able to understand opposite viewpoints towards the same matter, by searching to understand the truth of the matter.
From a superficial perspective, if we conclude that something is tamei, it cannot be tahor. But the Sages revealed to us here that if we conclude something is tamei, we should also be able to understand how it can be tahor. We also have this personal avodah of “finding 150 reasons why it should be tahor” – to be able to clearly understand an opposing view, by seeing how it can also be true.
This does not simply mean to look for arguments on how you think. Rather, when you are certain of one way to think, now try to see the opposite view. Don’t just see what the view of truth is and what the false view is. Instead, see two extremes and view them both as equally true, and enjoy the contradiction between them.
Part of enjoying learning Torah is to enjoy the many contradictions we come across in our Torah learning. This is the holy use of water-of-wind-of-fire when it comes to the sweetness of Torah learning, which is found in learning the many opposing views towards the same matter, while learning the Torah.
Slowly as a person gets used to this and enjoys this, a new window of inner clarity is opened to him. It becomes a new kind of thinking for him.
However, as we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the power to enjoy opposition is used for evil when a person deliberately thinks in an opposite way from others, because he cannot tolerate how others think. Based upon what was explained here, we can now see what the rectification for this kind person will be. He needs to make use of his water-of-wind-of-fire precisely as we have been describing above: he must to try to understand the opposite way of how he thinks, and enjoy the contradiction he finds, and then, he should see if it contains any truth in it.
By getting used to this, one will be able to weaken his tendency to think differently than others, and instead he will rectify his nature, by enjoying the ways of thinking of others who think very differently than he does. Until now, he had been enjoying his way of thinking which was opposite of how others think, and now, he has rectified this nature by learning how to enjoy how others see things. His soul becomes quieted from this, and even more so, his thinking patterns will begin to change, as he slowly gets used to enjoying the thinking of others.
This is the holy way to use water-of-wind-of-fire and it is also the way of how this nature is rectified.
Fixing The View of ‘Negative Eye’ Towards Others
This concept that we are explaining here is really coming to describe a fundamental way of living that applies beyond Torah learning as well. So far, we have seen how it applies to Torah learning, where a person can learn how to understand and accept that others think differently than he does. (Of course, this is not the only way to learn Torah. There are many different ‘ways’ within learning Torah, and this is just one of the ways.)
When one is making use of this idea, he will find that understanding others’ thinking is also a way to further develop ahavas Yisrael (love for the Jewish people).
There are two types of ahavas Yisrael: to love other Jews after one has purified his heart, and there is also a level of ahavas Yisrael that one can attain even before he has purified his heart. If the heart hasn’t been purified yet, which is usually the case with most people, a person views others in a negative light. Sometimes, having a negative view towards others is not because the person hasn’t purified his heart yet, but because he has certain thinking patterns he was used to since childhood, in which he got used to viewing others in a negative light. He developed a view of a “left eye” [a reference to the ‘evil eye’ towards others, seeing others negatively], towards others, instead of viewing others from him “right eye” [the ideal and positive way to see others].
The inner way to fix a “negative eye” towards others is, to break down his viewpoint into separate parts, and then to try to see some good points in other people.
This is a matter which needs caution, however. We should not try to find good points in those who are intentionally wicked and rebellious, because this is spiritually endangering. It can cause a person to connect himself with evil, and who knows where he will end up? Therefore, great caution must be exercised when we try to find good points in others and when we try to understand those who are on the opposite extreme of where we are found in.
Even so, it is still a fundamental concept to know about. One can at least look at other Torah observant Jews in his society, who live and think differently than he does, and try to see good in them. Maybe there is a Rav you don’t approve of, or certain minhagim of other Jews that seem strange or incorrect to you, or a certain community that you don’t like, or certain mannerisms and ways of thinking of other Jews that you don’t like. As long as they observe Torah and mitzvos, they deserve to be seen in a good light by you. Try to understand how others think, and even though you disagree with them, try to find some truthful points in how they think.
It goes without saying that you need to judge other Jews favorably, because this is a mitzvah anyhow. We are referring to a deeper level, which is really behind this. The depth of “judging others favorably”, of seeing other Jews in a good light, is to try to understand how they think and to see some truth in it, even though it doesn’t match your thinking, and enjoy what you find.
Some people derive enjoyment from the fact that others are wrong. Others, though, find enjoyment in uncovering opposite viewpoints, and seeing the truths that are contained in both of them. That is the ability we are describing here, which is water-of-wind-of-fire: deriving enjoyment from opposing, contradicting views.
The Meaning of Seeking Truth
“Truth” in Hebrew is the word “emes”, which contains the letters aleph, mem, and tav – which are the first, middle, and end letters of the Aleph Beis – which shows us that a person only sees the emes\truth is he can see the two extremes in a matter, and then to find the middle point between them.
“Emes” doesn’t mean to see only one side of the coin; that’s not the meaning of “emes”. The following is a very, very deep point. “Emes” is usually perceived as only one side to the matter, and that everything else is false, but that is not what “emes” means. “Emes” means to see the two extremes in matter and then to connect yourself to the middle point between them. A person who only sees one side in a matter doesn’t see “emes”.
Only when a person can see two extremes in a matter, and the middle point between them that connects them, can he see the emes; only then can he enjoy the emes that he sees. This is the inner, hidden kind of “emes”.
To be clearer about this, there are two levels of truth: “emes” (truth) and “emes l’amitah” (absolute truth). Emes can refer to seeing only one side of a matter, whereas “emes l’amitah” means to see two extremes in a matter and then to see the middle point that connects the opposing points.
A Purification of the Heart
As a person lives with this concept, besides for getting used to it in learning Torah, he also learns how to handle those who are opposite of him, and he learns how to think differently than he used to, and his beliefs will become more stable. His heart, which had once been in a state of impurity, will also become more purified with this. Understandably, there are other ways to purify the heart, but this is one of them, and it is a deep inner journey, where a person changes the negative thinking patterns he was used to since he was a child.
The point is not to go from being a negative kind of person to a more positive kind of person who only sees good in everything. One must certainly stick to his beliefs and ways of thinking that he has received from his teachers (if they are genuine to his soul, that is). The point is to gain a more expansive view towards others and to see points of truth that are contained in others. Slowly by getting used to this, a person will gain a deep feeling of connection to Klal Yisrael.
Using This Power Sensibly
As mentioned earlier, this concept requires caution to use, because if a person isn’t strong in maintaining the beliefs and the ways of thinking he has received from his teachers, it will be detrimental to him if he embraces others. It can fault his whole his way of living. He wasn’t strong to begin with, and now he will be all over the place, connecting to every way of thinking he comes across. He will wander a little bit away from his real place, and then he will go further, too far away from where he belongs.
As we can see, there are some people who fell into extreme ways of living because they tried to connect to other ways of living before they were solid in their own ways of living, and they become broken from it, to the point that you can’t tell it’s the same person anymore. That is what happens when people make extreme changes in their lifestyle when it wasn’t yet appropriate for them, when they weren’t solidified yet in their own way of living and thinking before they connected to the others’ thinking.
The Two Stages of Seeing Extremes
Therefore, practically speaking, if a person isn’t solid enough in his own way of living and thinking, his avodah is to first see extremes in terms of truth and falsity, and to connect himself to what he concludes as the truth. The very first stage is to discover what is true and what is false, and then to seek the truth.
When it comes to learning Torah, one needs to always make use of this ability. But outside of Torah learning, one needs to also differentiate between truth and falsity. He should then see the contrast of truth and against falsity, which will sharpen his feeling for truth, and then he will be able to better connect to truth.
After one has gone through that step, and he can remain firmly connected to truth, it is now time to progress to the next step, which we explained about at length here: to compare two different truths with each other. He should think into the two differing views which are both truthful, seeing how each of them can contain truth.
When one has this balance, on one hand he will develop a strong pursuit of truth in whatever he was involved with, but at the same time, he is also to connect himself to every point that he comes across and be able to relate to it. He has the clarity of truth, he is clear about another truth which argues on that truth, and he is also clear that that they are both parts of the truth. He is clearly aware of the truth he is connected to, but at the same time, he can be at peace with differing viewpoints.
At first, when a person begins to work on this concept, he will feel that he cannot stomach anything that differs with what he believes is true. Everything else other than his way of thinking will be deemed as false, and it will feel too difficult at this point to try to see how other viewpoints can also be true. This is the first stage, where a person is always weighing truth against falsity, and his avodah at that point is to find the two extremes, see which of them is more truthful, and connect to the truth.
But after a person is able to differentiate between truth and falsity and he can connect himself to truth, comes the second stage, where a a person compares two truths with each other, seeing two extremes that are both truthful, and the middle point between them. On one hand, his feeling for truth gets sharpened with all this, but at the same time, his soul expands and it can accept the views of others.
Most people, though, think in terms of “either, or”. Either they will connect with one kind of truth and completely dismiss the other extreme as being the incorrect view, because they can only one kind of extreme, and not another. At best, they will “judge others favorably” and tolerate them, but they will not be able to see how others can also have a truthful viewpoint; or, if that doesn’t happen, a person will just become ‘lukewarm’ towards the very truths that he knows of, when trying to understand others. Either of these approaches is superficial.
There is a third option to take, which is the balanced approach, where a person can stand in the middle of the two extremes. That is what we have been describing here.
Even more so, as we have been explaining here about water-of-wind-of-fire, where a person enjoys behaving extremely different than others - when a person is using this nature in a holy manner, there is less of chance he will leave that opposition, since he is enjoying it. He has changed his narrowed thinking patterns, but even more so, he will know how to get a permanent kind of pleasure from the opposing views that he come across. There is then much more of a chance that he will remain more firmly connected to truth, since he is deriving a feeling of vitality from truth.
This is all describing a deep place in the soul which can contain extremes, and to live with a more expansive kind of ahavas Yisrael, which derives pleasure from opposing views and from the truths that one can find within them. This deep way of living brings a person closer to becoming an adam hashaleim (a completed and perfected kind of person).
Pleasure From Opposition and Pleasure In Simplicity
However, as important as it is to derive pleasure from oppositions (water-of-wind-of-fire), this kind of pleasure should only have a partial role in our life, and it should not be made into our entire source of pleasure. We will explain why this is so, and briefly.
There are two deep, fundamental powers in the soul: peshitus (simplicity), and an opposite power than this, called harkavah (complication). The power of pleasure we have been describing here (water-of-wind-of-fire) is a use of harkavah (complication), because it enjoys the complications that we discover in contradictory, opposing viewpoints. Although this is a deeper form of pleasure, it is still coming from the more external layers of the soul, because harkavah only exists on the outer parts of the soul, not on the inner layer.
The inner layer of the soul derives pleasure from things that are of peshitus (simplicity), and it does not get pleasure from opposition and contradiction. The deepest pleasure is found in enjoying the reality of Hashem’s existence, which is a “simple” reality. The more a person uncovers a pleasure in it, the more he reveals pleasure in simplicity.
This idea is also true with learning Torah. When a person has an enjoyment in simplicity in learning Torah, he enjoys simply reading and learning the words of the Gemara, to the point that he begins to hum the words in a singsong voice, because his soul is pulled after the words.
One needs a subtle balance in his soul of where he is getting his pleasure from – a balance between pleasure in things that are of harkavah\complication and pleasure in things that are of peshitus\simplicity. Thus, the kind of pleasure that stems from water-of-wind-of-fire (enjoyment from opposition) should not become the source of all our pleasure, because it is an enjoyment that stems from contradictions and oppositions, the very antithesis to simplicity. Therefore, it needs to be balanced with a pleasure in simplicity.
On a deeper note, only in this current 6,000 year era are we meant to derive pleasure from contradictions and oppositions. But in the era of the future, the Next World, we will have a pleasure entirely from simplicity, because the pleasure found in simplicity is only when there is no possibility of opposition, which will be the state of the future [and even now we have an avodah to mimic that state of the future, thus we need some pleasure in simplicity even in our current times].
Thus, the avodah we described here, where we make use of water-of-wind-of-fire for holiness, is only one part of our avodah. It is a very fundamental power to make use of, but it is only one side of the coin. We need to also use the deeper part of the soul, which derives enjoyment from simplicity. This is even more fundamental than deriving pleasure from oppositions.
That “simplicity” we are referring to here is the enjoyment that comes from the state of “simplicity” that we can have in our bond with Hashem, which is the greatest and “simplest” kind of pleasure.