Beyond Opposites: Tiferet

Beyond Opposites: Tiferet

noncontradiction paradoxDon’t contradict yourself.

It’s either A or not A. The law of the excluded middle.

A thing is itself, and not its opposite. A = A. It’s the identity principle.

But these logical rules don’t operate in Kabbalah. Or in human psychology.

Kabbalists teach that the Divine Itself violates this rule. God is Eyn Sof  (Infinity). God’s plurality includes all things compatible and incompatible. Even things we imagine are opposite to God.

“World” and “God” are two distinct concepts. The world is concrete, immediate, physical, temporal. God is abstract, transcendent, spiritual, eternal. Yet our experience of God is contained in our experience of the world. And the world is contained in God’s infinite being. “God” and “World” are two concepts for a single metaphysical reality, seen from two points of view.

Depth psychologists speak of ego and shadow. Ego is the self we consciously hold. We know our ego reasonably well. Shadow is the part of self we refuse to own. A little psychic storage box for traits incompatible with our conscious values. Traits we seem to see only in other people. People whom we denigrate, without compassion. People who reflect us, seen from another point of view.

Which brings us to this week’s sephirah: Tiferet. Literally, Tiferet means glory, splendor, beauty. What kind of beauty? Heart beauty. Integrative beauty. When the sefirot are organized into a human stick figure, Tiferet is the heart. It sits on the middle line, integrating the “love” and “boundaries” that flank it. In Kabbalistic discourse, Tiferet is often translated as compassion.

Compassion is love across boundaries. Imagine someone you’ve criticized as morally deficient. Now imagine them grieving. Do you remember your own grief? Can you feel with them? That’s compassion, a spark of love across a boundary. A recognition of sameness in difference. Tiferet.

The divine name YHWH points us towards Tiferet. YHWH is a verb, the participle “Being” – but in an unspecified tense. Or perhaps in all tenses: Was-Is-Will Be. An integration of the entire timeline of consciousness. An active rejection of the law of non-contradiction. Feel this name alive in the world.

Tiferet’s colour is purple. The ancient Hebrew word for “purple,” argaman, means “weave.” Purple is a weave of blue and red, in a dazzling spectrum of integrations. Have you worn an outfit accessorized with multiple shades of purple? You looked great! Because all shades of purple go well together. In the purple family, no opposites exist.

Speak the word Tiferet aloud. Notice its vowel pattern: ee-eh. Try to make those sounds without a consonant. Notice how it mirrors the sound of breathing. In-breath eee, out-breath eh. Recognize that the breath can only go in two opposed directions, in and out. And that every pair of opposites is a complete cycle. That’s the spirit of Tiferet.

Inspirations: Sanford Drob, Rachel Elior, Arthur Waskow, Marcia Prager, Queen Elizabeth, Carl Jung, Mario Jacoby, Joseph Gikatilla, George Robinson, David Cooper, B.K.S. Iyengar. Image:

  1. I love this! I have been focusing this week on the complexity of Tiferet, bearing in mind the thought that the torso is the seat of Tiferet – an extremely complex region of the body. So much going on! I will love having your teaching with me for the rest of this week.

    1. Thanks, Diana. Love your observation about the balance — or, perhaps, constant juggling — between our inner organs to keep the body healthy.

  2. Some reflections:
    Rather than being like two goal posts, one at either end of a playing field, breath in moves to a point, pauses, exhales to a point, pauses. Repeats. What do we learn from this? Breath is cyclical, processive. According to Torah, breath came from Hashem. It was breathed into us, and we cycle lifelong between receiving and returning this Ruach and thus we participate in it fully according to the capacity — the potentiality, the virtue — of our adamah. Breath moves beyond the metaphorical. It is how we participate in the grounds of Being and Becoming, each cycling in and through each other — breathlessly.

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