Though not raised in the Chasidic movement, I learned to appreciate it later in life. It offers a transcendental understanding of the human predicament in this life. One of the ideas I found there, was that descent is necessary in order to ascend. At first, I found the concept difficult to accept. In fact, when I first heard this theory, I thought that the whole idea had been invented to console the individual who found himself down, and was suffering from his misery. But the more I studied the concept, the more I realized that there was a great truth behind it.
If you look at a seed, say our teachers, you realize that first it has to soften and come apart before it can grow to become a fruit tree. In order to climb a mountain, says another, one can not go up higher and higher all the time. No, one reaches a certain height, and then has to go down a way before one can go up even further. An example is found in the Talmud of Rabbi Zira who decided to go to Israel from Babylon, and fasted a series of fasts in order to forget the religious rules of the diaspora, so as to learn the rules of living in the holy land with a clear head. Many examples are given, but the message is enforced again and again…
For a serious person, being down is not a state in itself, but part of the process of going up. When all goes well, a person is satisfied with his life, and doesn’t push forward. But when he is unsatisfied or unhappy, he examines himself and his situation, and in that way finds a path to improvement. And so our teachers tell us, we shouldn’t look at unhappiness and misery as bad luck… crying out, ‘why is this happening to me?’ but should see it as part of the preparation for ascent.
In another place I found this explanation. When a person is on a high, he sees everything about what he is doing and how he is living as perfectly all right. And so, is unable to see alternatives that are even better. To remedy this, he has to fall from his position of grace in order to ascend to a still higher level of consciousness.
In the last couple of weeks, I found myself more and more miserable after hearing that my previous landlord was not interested that I continue to rent his apartment. I didn’t like the apartment that much. There were a lot of things wrong with it. But I liked moving even less. I felt uprooted and homeless. It has been about four months since my friends convinced me to move from my old apartment to a new one, and during that time, I’ve been living in temporary conditions. I have been without all sorts of tools and implements that I was used to. I’d moved from one temporary home to another. And there didn’t seem an end in sight. When I asked how my new home was coming along, I got one of two answers. Either I was told it was almost ready. Or I was told that there was a lot more to do to set it up. If I got the first answer, I would immediately suspect they were just trying to cheer me up. If I got the second answer, I would despair.
My last move to still another temporary home was made with great speed and little caution. The new place was cleaner and nicer, and it had a little garden next to it. But though it was a two room flat, it was very small, and there wasn’t enough room to store all of my possessions in an orderly fashion. The kitchen was so small that I had to move the drying rack for dishes to the couch in order to have room to prepare a meal. And the two little windows let very little light or air into the apartment. I had to use artificial lighting all of the time.
When my daughter Rivka was about to visit, she asked me if I would like her to bring dinner. I told her not to bring anything. I thought that since the kitchen was so small, it would be more trouble to prepare a good meal for us than it was worth. I decided to eat out. We went to Pini’s new restaurant. For years I used to go to the old one, and it was a place I loved. The story of how and why he moved is too long to tell here.
When we arrived at the restaurant, it was full. There were musicians playing in one dimly lit corner of the restaurant, and we were offered a table right next to the band. It was clear that we would have to give up any hope of dinner conversation, but I said yes immediately. I love music. The music was of the Grecian style, and warmed the heart. It started out good, and got better when a singer joined the musicians. At a certain point, Pini himself, proprietor and master chef, joined the musicians to play the drum, Customers got out of their seats and started dancing. I hadn’t brought my favorite camera, because I worried that the rain my damage it. But I did have a little pocket camera that I always take with me for emergencies. These photos tell the story. As I started beating the rhythm on the table, while eating the exotic foods offered in this wonderful restaurant, I raised my head with a radiant smile, and said… ‘ah now I understand. The descent is for the sake of the ascent’. I was one with the world, and filled with happiness.