Dear Laibl,

I've had a "spiritual" practice in one form or another for almost 30 years now and am still amazed at how I get to witness myself making mistakes.

One of my long time teachers is Thich Nhat Hanh. He is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk (I'm sure you know of him). He says in any given situation we are the perpetrator and the victim, that separating ourselves from taking sides is important because we contain the seeds of every behavior and to recognize that is to understand the need for compassion. Then in the Kabbalah readings, there is the idea of being "other-centered." So I have had to say goodbye to relationships that were destructive or find myself avoiding people who push my buttons with deception, illusion or lies.

Are we to embrace everyone? Even my drug addict sister who hasn't told the truth in many years? They say we also need to protect ourselves. What do you think? Relationships confuse me on this score. And in some ways, the deeper I go with the readings, the less clearly I see.

D (Perth, Australia)

Dear L,

Yes I have read Thich Nhat Hanh's writings. It's a bit tricky to compare eastern concepts in a western mould. The translation does not actually capture the nuances. Eastern notions of separation and attachment don't really mean the same in the English words.

In short - everything about us is dual in nature. We have the power to connect, join, become one with, etc. and we also have the capacity to separate, remove oneself, create distance from. The first is a Hessed (compassionate) tendency and the other is a Gevurah (inner strength) tendency, as I explain in my book, Practical Kabbalah, and also in the tapes on Love and Relationship found here. We need to use an appropriate balance of these attributes in each situation – balance driven by wisdom.

To recognise and objectify the other's poverty or shortcoming requires us to look from a more distant vantage point. This requires Gevurah – inner strength and self-containment. It ironically opposes the process of stretching out of the hand in compassionate assistance. Yet without the very act of reasonable objectivity, the flow of compassion might be either unreasonable or poorly administered. I.e. if you are there, fully attached, you cannot see truly. Amongst the trees you can't see the forest. The next step is to extend Hessed - compassionate behaviour and this requires you to draw near – to extend a hand, become one.

The two tendencies are not contradictory, but complementary. Therefore in application to your sister, you will at the same time practice ‘tough-love’ and also maintain a loving relationship. And we bring both emotion gifts of Hessed and Gevurah to bear in all relationships. But to be simply detached cannot possibly provide the joy and bliss of life’s full involvement.

There is much more than can be said but let us begin with these few pithy thoughts.


Rabbi Laibl Wolf