The Importance of Being a Visionary
“Who is wise?” Ask the Sages in the Ethics of the Fathers, “one who sees what is being born.”
“Wisdom” in this case is a weak translation of the word chochmah in Hebrew. Chochmah, as with many Hebrew words, proves excessively difficult to render into English with a single translation. In kabbalistic literature we find that it refers to a pre-linguistic visual apperception or intuition. On a more basic level we might equate it with insight (in-sight or inward sight).
Of all the experiences apprehended by our insights, chochmah denotes an attunement to continuous recreation, to the non-linear disruptions that erupt from moment-to-moment, stressing the discontinuities and change within our sense of reality–a general openness towards the new. It represents our intuitions about emergent phenomenon that cannot be traced causally to pre-existing conditions.
What does “being born” amount to in our Talmudic statement?
Anything born must have first existed in a state of potential. Taken abstractly, any initial condition that is concealed from view, that cannot be measured (or at the very least cannot be precisely measured), that is in a process of becoming, can be likened to pregnancy. At any given time reality itself is pregnant. In Hebrew we can easily validate this concept, by pointing out the etymological connection between the word avar (the past) and the word ibur (pregnancy) as both are built from same ayin-beit-reish root. Each new present is a birth experience.
While mono-casual chains may seem to determine the present as a direct result of the past—much like a game of dominos—Kabbalah insists that the progenitors of the present minimally be considered as only partially determined. As with all sexual reproduction, it remains an ongoing question as to how the paternal and material elements mix and how those qualities will be assigned to the child. Throughout most of history (with the exception of a number of modern day technologies such as ultrasounds), until the baby is born we don’t know exactly what he or she will look like—or more profoundly what he or she will be like.
The present is a continual surprise party–the miracle of birth with respect to the past. Yet the future can also be said to be born out the present. In fact, the word for “future,” atid, also means “ready” as evidenced from the verse in the Book of Esther 3:14 “to be ready [atidim] on that day.” Thus, the future is already in a certain sense present and prepared in the present tense. Perhaps we can argue that the present is an ibur sheini or “second pregnancy” in addition to the first pregnancy of the past.
A closer look at the kabbalistic analysis of this idea of envisioning the future reveals two ‘coupled’ means for visualizing what is being born. One is actually seeing the future (as future) and the second pertains to the birth of the present anew each and every moment. We might qualify these two types of vision as masculine and feminine in Kabbalah. When a ‘male’ is born we gain a vision of what the coming week will contain because a brit (circumcision) will happen on that same day a week later. The vision is connected to an actual future event. While, if a girl is born, the Talmud tells us she is born already circumcised–meaning for her the future is already present. She arrives ‘ready’ [as in atid] made.
Transposing this same set of relationships into our discussion of envisioning the birth of new realities, we can assert that a future which requires a transformation to occur– where reality needs to be changed through conquest (as in the Torah’s characterization of the masculine nature to conquer)–is prototypically male. Beholding the ongoing shifts and revisions of creation, a reality that is refreshed continually on its own (without our need to wrestle and subdue it) could be construed as prototypically female. This feminine perception encounters the present as an embryonic form of the future.
Brit or circumcision is a sign of the Covenant, a promise which binds the time of promising to the time of the fulfillment of that promise. Having to anticipate the actualization (birth) of a future act of circumcision (male) verses one who is born circumcised and thus automatically beginning to actualize the promise of the future in the present (female), beautifully extends the parallelism.
“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” –William Gibson
Gibson’s quote captures the feminine birth. A similar echo is heard in a number of statements by the Lubavitcher Rebbe for whom ‘Moshiach [the Messiah] is already here, all one must do is open one’s eyes.’ Distribution problems and vision problems are highly correlated.
Ultimately, we are compelled to have both of these approaches. Depending on which one is highlighted at any given time, we will acquire an altered sense of the process of creative destruction.
In Part 4 we will examine creative destruction in the laws of the Sabbath and in the economy of Divine creativity.