By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
One of the greatest challenges we all face, from the time we are young, is how to communicate. Our success or failure in meeting this challenge will have a great influence on our relationships, our livelihood, our ability to reach our goals in life, and our self-image.
What is the nature of communication, and what do the Chassidic Masters say about the tools to successfully transmit our thoughts, feelings, and needs?
To answer this question, the Sages go back to the very first quoted communication that exists. Yes, they go all the way back to the story of Bereishis, where we read that “G-d said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
The obvious question is why the Torah chooses the faculty of speech as the means to create light (and the rest of creation). Who was G-d talking to? Couldn’t G-d have brought the universe into being through thought, or have made the world through deed? However, on closer examination, the Torah is teaching us a very important lesson about the nature of communication and of the creation itself.
First of all, the use of the terms “speech,” “thought,” or “deed” when we are dealing with G-d is purely a metaphor for different tools G-d can use to accomplish what He wants to be done. Mankind, with the unique quality of being created in G-d’s image, has these tools as well, but they are an infinitely smaller reflection of a higher spiritual power as they exist in G-d’s reality.
Kabbalah teaches that an important part of G-d’s intent in creating the world was that the creation should be a seemingly independent entity wherein each human being would be able to exercise free choice. If G-d had chosen “thought” as the medium for creation, the universe would have been “too close” to the source, and the potential for free choice would not exist. If, on the other hand, G-d chose to “make” the world through deed, it would have appeared as a totally separate entity, without any long-term connection to its Maker, just as an artist or craftsman can “create” a piece and then become totally separated from it.
Speech, on the other hand, has a number of unique qualities which make it the perfect pathway for the type of creation G-d desired. At this time, I want to focus on one of these qualities because of its relevance to communication.
Kabbalah describes the process that created the universe in terms of “light” and “vessel.” The intensity of the light and the strength of the vessel in which the light is contained are crucial to creating a stable universe. If the light is too strong, the vessels will be broken, as if 10,000 watts would be funneled into a 60-watt bulb. On our material plane of creation, the light is the G-dly energy that is constantly flowing into the vessel, which is the world itself. Without the light, the vessel would cease to exist.
However, at the same time, the vessel naturally hides that which is within it. Thus, we cannot see G-d openly in the world around us. Communication is the process of taking a thought or feeling in our minds or hearts and using our tools to get it into someone else’s mind or heart as unchanged as possible. The tools we use are the written word, speech, or movement. In each of these avenues, there is also a light and a vessel. The light is the thought or emotion we want to communicate, and the vessel is the language, words, or body movements we use to communicate. But to be successful in this process, we must understand the nature of the intended receiver, and customize the light and the package to the recipient.
The receiver is going to use his or her knowledge and experience to try to reveal the light from the midst of the vessel and ingest it — hopefully in the same form it had in the mind or heart of the giver. So our goal in communication is to make sure that the light, once it gets to the receiver, will be true to the original light, the way it was in our minds or hearts. If we misread the mindset, knowledge, personality, or mood of the intended receiver, then our vessel will be off-target, and could, in fact, accomplish the opposite of what we intended. If we speak in French to someone who only understands English, the vessel will hit the receiver like a lead balloon. On the other hand, we can speak with a great choice of words, but a boring voice will distance our audience.
What does all this teach us?
On one level, we see that speech is an incredible gift from G-d, with great potential and great risks. Recognizing the power of our words and the importance of carefully choosing the right vessel is the first step to better communication and better relationships at home, in school, and in the office.
On a more spiritual plane, the Chassidic Masters, based on Kabbalistic teachings, teach us that G-d continues from moment to moment to create the whole universe through the faculty of “Supernal speech.” With all the details of the creation that we experience on a daily basis, G-d is, in fact, “speaking” to each and every one of us to give direction and purpose to our lives. The creative energy that comes from Above is perfectly matched to the vessel, which is us. The only problem is that all we see of G-d’s “speech” is the vessel. The light is inside, but deliberately hidden. Our challenge in our personal communication with G-d is to learn how to decipher the language of the vessel that G-d has custom-made for each and every one of us.
This is what the Torah, and in particular the teachings of the Masters, guides us to understand. The tools are there for us; we just have to invest the time and energy to learn them.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.