Defining “Individual” Rooms
The rooms of my house encompass me and are encompassed by me. From an exterior perspective, my personality sprung a leak and bled all over the house. My private world, overloaded with experiences, unpacks its contents and distributes them all over the house. Somewhere between an archive, museum, and gallery, my home is my primary extension of self. At the same time, if there is only space for me, if there is only a ‘single’ space, a space which is not a occupied with relationships, where there is no admittance to the other, no hospitality, then my home remains incomplete.
We are in need of a diversity of rooms. This goes for our embodied or housed emotions as well. Monolithic sensations and solitary feelings cannot represent the diversity of chambers in my heart. Thus, if we are to rescue the fullness of life from the pallid warehouse of unvaried expression, we require at least six rooms.
In our previous articles we set the stage for our present inquiry into the individual rooms of our idealized house. We traced the triplet of wisdom, understanding and knowledge to their counterpart relationships as architect, builder and interior designer. Now we will tour the individual rooms and highlight the reasons for their correspondence to the emotive spheres in Kabbalah.
Beginning with lovingkindness (chessed)–if we survey early kabbalistic writings, we will discover that this channel of Divine influence, this dimension of reality, this power of the soul, is also called by the name gedulah meaning ‘greatness.’ It also relates to the word gadol–literally ‘big’ or ‘large.’ This is the first of the spheres of the heart. It might be likened to the firstborn emotion, the ‘big’ brother or the eldest and most mature feeling.
As a result, the Zohar sees lovingkindness as the locus of life. All the other emotive powers are just variations and augmentations on this original emotional space. In light of its centrality, the Psalmist proclaims [Psalms 89:3] “…the world is built by lovingkindness (olam chessed ibaneh).” Since it is the nature of lovingkindness to want to give whether it is deserved or not, the gratuity involved in hospitality welcomes others into the home. Thus, we dedicate our largest room to this spiritual function: the living room. The living room hosts life itself. In that chessed is gedulah–lovingkindness is ‘big,’ even ‘big’ hearted–we can now explain why the living room is traditionally the largest room of the house.
Standing in stark contrast with lovingkindness, the next emotive trait is gevurah meaning ‘severity.’ Often depicted as a form of might, or even self-discipline, gevurah is also known in early Kabbalah by another name–din. Din means judgement. Rolling the two terms together, we get ‘sever judgement.’ The nature of judgement (particularly the sever kind) is to make exacting distinctions. Sound judgement cuts like a knife, analyzing all of the experience which we consume and process into a useful form. Our food for thought has to be in bite-sized pieces. We have to learn to separate the good from the bad, to register what we can eat ‘raw’ and what needs to be ‘cooked,’ what is kosher and what is not kosher. While the living room acts as the social glue joining us together regardless of our differences, the kitchen marks the place of judgement and discernment in the house.
Extended to our topo-analysis, the kitchen in the soul is the dedicated space within my self wherein I must be discriminating and refine the basic ingredients of my experience. As a filtering mechanism, judgement differentiates while lovingkindness entails a simple openness to the world, others and experiences. It is the curiosity and concern that welcomes and desires to host everything that I encounter in the parlor (a variant of a living room) of my mind as the ‘in house’ entertainment.
Next up is tiferet or ‘beauty.’ Beauty, once again, is the middle ground between lovingkindness and severity. Its the balance. Our dialectical progression suggests that the third primary room of the house has to incorporate aspects of both the living room and the kitchen, just as tiferet or beauty, has as it’s inner experiential dimension the quality of rachamim or compassion. Compassion (sometimes referred to as mercy) tempers judgement and softens the severity by diluting it with the non-judgmental impulse of unconditional love. When that which transcends distinctions plays with distinctions, one possible outcome is the sweetened reality of beautiful compassionate emotion. Thus, our living room-kitchen hybrid is called the dining room.
We might suggest that one’s home should have a large living room, a sharp kitchen and a beautiful dining room. As the middle ground between the two extremes, the dining room serves the food that was just prepared in the kitchen to the guests and family who have been socializing in the living room. Spiritually speaking, our dining room has points of access to both the living room and the kitchen. In general we need to be able to freely circulate between all of these three rooms. They have an easily understood unity all to themselves. For those more familiar with Kabbalah, these three rooms are a unit onto themselves (like the primary colors as we mentioned previously) termed morgash meaning the emotive powers of soul from the word regish or ‘feeling.’ In this case, we are speaking of aroused emotions. The life of these rooms and these rooms within our lives, is vivified every time they are used, particularly when we have company over.
While it might have been tempting to refer to these first three rooms as day rooms and the next three as night rooms (shadowing in a certain sense the day rooms) the richness of our night life–especially after the advent of the electric light–has kept the proverbial candle burning at both ends. A more sustainable distinction might be to label the first three rooms as ‘waking’ rooms, while the primary function of the next three is for ‘sleep.’ ‘Waking’ in this sense agrees with the idea of the living room, kitchen and dining room as ‘aroused’ or simulated emotional spaces in which we are typically fully conscious (unless of course you like to snooze on the sofa or at the diner table).
Relatively speaking, the bedrooms are for sleeping. There are after all “bed” rooms. The name reinforces the modernist mantra that ‘form follows function.’ Not that you cannot have a lot more going on in the bedroom besides sleep, but in terms of predominance, the majority of our hours are spent sleeping in there. If our ‘waking’ states accord with being consciousness, then our ‘sleep’ states plunge us into unconscious realms. The emotional unconscious comes under the heading mutba from the word teva meaning ‘nature’ in Hebrew and it constitutes the behavioral powers of the soul, the innate feelings, the automatic responses from habituation that we manage without really thinking or feeling.
Our ideal house has at least three bedrooms due to the idealized family in Kabbalah. One the secrets of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ relates to the ‘re-production’ of the Divine name Havyah or Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei. Since this name is the name of four letters (hence it is called the Tetragrammaton by some) it corresponds to the nuclear family. In the Zohar, the letter Yud represents abba or ‘father’ (the seminal drop is the image of the Yud [י] itself), the first Hei is called emma or ‘mother’ (the frame of the Hei is the abstract housing of the seed of father in the womb of mother), the Vav is the ben or ‘son’ and finally, the second Hei stands for the bat or ‘daughter’. This is the minimal threshold of reproduction: the father and mother (Yud-Hei) copy themselves as the son and daughter (Vav-Hei). All other children are multiples of either boys or girls. Thus, the three bedrooms are the boy’s room, girl’s room and the master bedroom of the parents.
The kids’ rooms clearly form a pairing which is exactly what we find in the Kabbalah with the next two emotive spheres: netzach and hod. Netzach on the surface refers to both victory (nitzachon) and eternity (nitzchiut). Taken together, however, they have the combined meaning of something like ‘endurance’ or ‘perseverance.’ The inner experience of netzach comes from an active sense of bitachon or ‘confidence,’ ‘trust’ or ‘security.’ Confidence allows me to push on, to keep going even when the going gets tough. Deep down, this trait instills within me a feeling that whatever I try to do I can be successful. If I trust in God, if I feel something greater than myself is guiding me, if I believe that the world is overseen by Providence and that things happen for a reason, then I acquire the confidence to accomplish my tasks at hand. Netzach is likened to the right leg stepping out into the world which bears resemblance to the expression ‘put your best foot forward.’
However, the right leg without the left is unbalanced. If my right leg is forward then my left leg has to hang back to stabilize my stance. Thus, the left leg is hod which can means ‘acknowledgment’ (hod’i’yah) amongst other things. To acknowledge the nature of the situation that I’m in requires an inner sense of sincerity (temimut). I can reinforce my position if I really mean it and won’t budge from my place. I will stand my ground no matter what. This is the relatively passive counterpart to active confidence and trust. Instead of being a matter of projecting confidence that whatever I undertake to do will go well, it’s an inversion. I sink into myself settling at my core rather than protruding outwardly. This ‘passive’ form of confidence fills me with a sense that no matter what happens to me, everything will be for the best. It will all work itself out and be alright.
‘Boys and girls’ are placeholders for the spiritual qualities of the masculine and the feminine. Qualities that we all have ‘in house.’ They are innate and surface automatically when placed in the right situation. We store these abilities in ‘bedrooms’ of our soul. Moreover, Lurianic Kabbalah addresses the netzach and hod as passive and active confidence with emphasis on the expression: “he is in netzach, she is in hod.” Consequently, our ‘boy’s’ bedroom and ‘girl’s’ bedroom will corresponds to netzach (active confidence) and hod (passive confidence) respectfully.
Last but not least, we reach the power of the soul know as yesod. Yesod means foundation. Its inner experience relates to emet or ‘truth’ in the sense of l’amait meaning to verify. To put something on a firm foundation establishes its validity and confers truth upon it. In Kabbalah yesod corresponds to the procreative organs. Emblematic of all creativity, yesod becomes our outlet for self-actualization. How do I know if I really have some potential talent or ability within me unless I can can produce a demonstration to verify its existence. If I insist I am a writer but have written nothing, then this claim remains unverified. The foundation of my claim to being a writer stems from the externalization of that inner potential.
As the foundational members of the household, the father and mother (whose status as such already implies a degree of creative self-actualization) have adorned the home with ‘children’ necessitating boys and girls bedrooms. Thus, the parent’s bedroom or master bedroom, represents this final chamber of the heart, the position of truth, the ‘bed’ rock of the house: yesod.
In Part Six we will examine variations on these room assignments as well as the significance of additional home features.