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The Breath of Life

by Chana Weisberg

Breath, the inhale and exhale, marking life itself. From the first breath to the last, the constant inhale and exhale signifies vitality.

Take a moment to experience it. Breathe deeply. Fill your lungs with the fresh, pure oxygen. This inhale represents your very inner, core essence, your very being in life. It signifies who you are.

Now, release it; let it all out. Witness your breath exiting and meshing with your surroundings. This represents your doing in life, your impacting on the outside world and accomplishing.

Your inhale is self-preservation, defining your own boundaries of self. Your exhale is your universal imprint on the society and world around you.

All beings and any life force experience this duality of inner and outer; inner parameters and boundaries versus outer affects and imprints. Who it is and what it does. The protection of its inherent boundaries, and its reaching out to the world.

The greater a life force, the more evident is its inhale and exhale.

Indeed, all creation, say the Kabbalists, is characterized by this to and fro movement, called "ratzo v'shov" (running forth and drawing back) or "mati v'lo mati" (reaching and retreating).

The heart contracts and expands; the lungs exhale and inhale. On a deeper level, the body sleeps, extinguishing its active faculties in order to rejuvenate. The earth enters an interlude of night and winter in order to vivify itself with the necessary energies for its more outward-oriented dawn of spring.


The same is true of the flow of vitality from G-d to His creation. This flow also comes in flashes of running forth and drawing back, reaching and retreating.

In fact, the more elevated the bestowal, the more intense is the withdrawal preceding it. Both revelation and its preceding concealment, then, are two faces of the same reality and reflect the innate pendulum of life.

Furthermore, the microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm. Each breath of life -- each protective withholding of boundaries as well as each outer exertion -- reflects the Divine balance and flow to creation.

An allusion to this is seen in the creation story of mankind. Original man was created as a "two-sided being." Having been created in the Divine image, man, too, had a masculine and feminine aspect: "And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27).

G-d then split this being into two distinct beings. From then on, the divided halves of the Divine image seek and yearn for each other, creating an eternal tension that draws them back together, this time as separate individuals.

While every man and woman is his or her own unique being, each recognizes something in the complete transcendental persona of the other that is missing in his or herself. Seen within this context, the Divine analogue is once again made whole upon the uniting of the two, particularly within the context of marriage.

The masculine and feminine dichotomy is not simply two genders within a species. Each reflects, rather, subtle forms of Divine energy that are constantly being renewed within the process of creation.

In its most abstract form, the feminine energy reflects internal energy, the withdrawal and inhale of the cosmos. The masculine energy reflects projective energy, expansiveness and revelation, or the cosmic exhale of all creation.

This is not to say that all women have only characteristics of this elusive inner trait, or all men of this powerful external trait. While it is true that a woman is generally more characterized by her feminine energy and a man by his masculine energy, the energies of both are found in each other.

This is true because ours is a world of integration, where there are no absolutes, but rather things blending, sharing and balancing each other. So, in everything male there is at least a small bit of female, and likewise in all things female, there is some male. As a result, every aspect of creation shares in this duet of masculine and feminine.

However, to be attuned to her inner self and her feminine self, a woman would need to discover what and how to use her feminine energies productively and positively. The same holds true for a man. Judaism encourages the awareness of these equally important, yet different, arenas of masculine and feminine energies...


The needle pierces the pieces of cloth, joining its divisions. To and fro the needle sews, creating a new unity in the disjointed material. As the needle completes its final stitch, the cloth becomes whole.

Man is like the needle. Throughout his life he toils to and fro, connecting the disjointed elements of our material world. Weaving his way through the fabric of life, he sews spirituality into his surroundings. His thread is Torah and mitzvot, through which he imbues the whole of creation with life and purpose, to achieve its G-dly intent.

The needle's tip is sharp and pointy. The stiff cloth bends under the steely tip. Aggressive and forceful, no stubborn cloth will interfere with the needle's path. Pushing ahead, it will unite the many tears of the fabric.

A person can learn from the needle's tip to persevere in accomplishing his G-dly mission. Relentlessly pursuing his goals, one should not be sidetracked by difficulties. With confidence and resolve, one must meet the challenge of infusing every piece of physical matter with spiritual vitality. With perseverance and a head-on approach, one must continue weaving the light of Torah and mitzvot into all aspects of creation.

The other end of the needle seems dull and hollow. It merely tags along, following the lead of its other more assertive half. It neither imposes its rule, nor breaks through any new frontiers.

Yet, as subordinate as it may seem, the eye of the needle provides the power for this tool. The secret of the needle's success lies precisely in the connecting threads housed within this cavity.

The needle's hollow end reminds man of the humility which must accompany his aggressive march ahead. Only with the realization that he is but a vessel -- an empty, hollow vessel -- can he achieve his mission.

While externally his approach must be confident and assertive, overcoming all outside challenges, he must maintain a deeper, inner understanding that he, too, is merely a created vessel for carrying out a higher Will. Only by his appreciation of his true worth can man achieve his lofty goal of uniting all of creation, permeating it with its spiritual intent.

Reprinted with permission from

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