Uncertainty & Certainty, Exile & Redemption

We live in an age of great confusion and uncertainty. There is a devastating lack of leadership; both on a collective/global and individual/personal level. Clearly, our life, and life in general, seems to be spinning out of control.

Looking back into our history, it appears that years back life was much more straightforward, true, life was harder before the advance of medicine — just a simple toothache could mean days ridden in bed with a high fever — but essentially, life was simple. Much of the agony and stress vexing our lives, such as where we are going to live, what we are going to do for a living, and with whom we are going to live, were basically non-issues; you lived in the town you were born, you did what your parents did, and marriages were traditionally arranged. Not that I am advocating this style of living, just noting its simplicity and observing its stark contrast to our own life, a life riddled in chaos, wrapped in mystery, obscured in uncertainty.

The Secret by Shoshannah Brombacher

As the world appears smaller and smaller the threat to world instability becomes ever bigger and bigger. Just glancing through the daily papers or headline news gives the impression that the world is heading towards a mammoth collision; either one group of people against the other, or civilizations against each other, or mankind as a whole against the entire environment. Whichever which way you look, you see strife, animosity and contention peeking toward your direction.

Enlightenment & Anxiety

The so called enlightenment, which championed bringing rational sanity, open-mindedness and clarity to the world, and the means to shake off ‘foolishness,’ has instead brought more uncertainty and ever more anxiety. As people stopped believing in a higher force, they did not begin believing in nothing; rather they began believing in everything. The anything includes all forms of oddities and outlandish conspiracies, fostering even greater anxieties and more horrific fears.

What’s more, ever since the so proclaimed ‘death of god,’ what we got in its stead was a ‘birth of death’ — a birth and rebirth of the overwhelming fear and dread which meaningless and random death brings.

Relativity has become an ‘ism.’ Relativity, which began as a scientific theory, became a yardstick to measure all aspects of life, morals and ethics included, leaving nothing as a certainty.

It is a time of great uncertainty, the scientific ‘law of uncertainty’ can be seen as the prevailing principle of our own life. Without sounding too abstract or theoretical, just day-to-day choices are hard to come by. Going to the supermarket and viewing the large variety of cereals can itself be a dizzying experience. It is no wonder that life coaches, self-help gurus, and motivational guides are a dime a dozen.

Personal & Collective Exile

During the period from the seventeenth of the Hebrew month of Tamuz till the ninth day of the following month of av, there are three weeks of national mourning. It is within that period that we commemorate and mourn the destruction of the ancient Temples that stood proud in Jerusalem for nearly a thousand years. As the sacred walls of the Temple came crumbling down, a period of great national exile and loss ensued. There was a devastating loss of security and a sense of great alienation and profound dis-belonging. The central and focal point of the nation was destroyed. The place of worship and atonement was lost. Personally, the internal temple, reflecting the external temple which is built of brick and mortar, was also shattered. We lost our grounding. Ever since galus/exile began, and we entered uncharted areas, we entered uncertain times-a period of physical as well as emotional/spiritual exile and alienation.

In this state of galus there is a deeply felt existential loneliness and yearning to reconnect. The question is only how? Having been left in our uncertainties, how do we gain or regain our internal and collective sanctuary? How do we rebuild, achieve clarity and an inner personal and outer global geulah — redemption?

“Zion will be redeemed with law,.” the prophet declares. Talmudic sages intuit, “Since the destruction of the temple, the shechinah-divine presence rests solely within the four cubits of halacha-law.” Obviously these teachings are hinting that redemption comes about through clarity since decisive law represents lucidity, a certainty of conduct. But let us venture and probe the process a bit deeper.

To gain certainty and hegemony over our lives, we need to foster and cultivate a consciousness of certainty.

Direct & Reflective Light

Temple time represents ohr yashar-direct light, a clarity; walking into a room where the lights are already switched on. By contrast, our present normative galus state of awareness represents ohr chozer-reflective light, grappling in the darkness and then allowing the light to slowly trickle in. It is a state where the light emerges from the darkness, where the answers are gained through the questions.

When we do secure a resolve, a decisiveness of thought, a minor redemption occurs. Cognitively plowing through the darkness of uncertainty by further challenging, questioning, and probing and then attaining a measure of certainty, we achieve a form of intellectual liberation. This redemption, abstract as it may appear, opens the gate to freedom and, thus, gives rise for the ability of our consciousness of certainty to seep into our entire lives.

The light that emerges, the clarity of thought and awareness that comes about through the darkness allows and empowers us to fully integrate a measure of clarity on all levels of existence.

Perhaps most of us function with more uncertainty than certainty, with more questions than answers, in more darkness than light. Questions, dilemmas, and enigmas are endemic to the human condition. The alienation and misalignment in which most people live, the spiritual galus-exile puts them in a constant state of quandary. As such, beyond viewing the questions merely as a means to arrive at the answers, we need also recognize the gift of the question, and that the questions allow for greater answers, which in turn bring more thoughtful questions with more profound answers. Every thesis poses its own antithesis, which hopefully brings a greater synthesis until that synthesis is also challenged. Certainly, on an intellectual and spiritual level, that which satisfies our intellect and spiritual appetite today may not, and should not, do the same the day after.

Answers raise new questions. Much like Kant wrote in Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics, “Every answer given on principle of experience begets a fresh question, which likewise requires its answer.”

True, questions can be daunting and stifling; living only in the questions can be spiritually destructive and can lead to greater uncertainty and ambiguity. Yet, finding the answer and living in the answer while completely forgetting the original question may cause the answer to become a mechanical, habitual, and dispirited truth.

Questions & Answers

Answers and even questions can both serve a positive productive purpose. In fact, they both need each other, and need each other at every stage of the evolving process. To live life creatively, fully and truly progress in awareness and understanding, the dialectical and symbiotic relationship between the two must be continuous. Uncertainties can bring greater certainties, later posing a new set of uncertainties which lead to more profound certainties. At every step, the light retrieved and extrapolated from the deeper darkness is ever more powerful and brilliant.

Let us hope — hope being a proactive virtue in which we actively seek amidst our obscurities and darkness a way to better our existential condition —that the light that emerges, the clarity of awareness that rises, permeates and infuses us so completely that we gain and regain a healthy measure of certainty, confidence, and self-assurance. And yet, let us always remain open to higher and deeper questions that allow for greater and more profound answers. As we seek the Infinite the climb is infinite, and every peak scaled reveals to us new possibilities and new vistas to scale.


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