Back to basics: Truth is unity, and unity is truth. They say dead men tell no tales. Mad men tell only tales. That is, the mark of those who have lost their grasp on reality is the incongruity of their reports with what is collectively known to be true; they say grandma is a flamingo and not an old lady with a hairy chin; they say the voices in their head were placed there by the sinister plotting of the world’s anteater population; they say the United States in an orange in the Czar’s fruit bowl (bad example).
Let me put it differently: There’s a famous story in which the Queen of England visits an insane asylum. One of the patients tells her with barely-masked contempt, “You know, inside these walls we are quite certain it is all of you on the outside who are mad.” She responds instantly, “Yes, my dear, but we have the majority.”
With all due respect to the Queen, I think she is more right than she suspects. Those outside the asylum will always have a majority over those inside because the maximum size of the insane man’s coalition is one member. Cooperation is only possible when you have a shared mental reality; you cannot agree to overthrow the government if one of you thinks it’s a baseball and one thinks it’s a plush duvet; you cannot agree to build a tower for any holy or unholy purpose if you do not share a language.
A similar teaching to the Queen’s we learned, L’havdil, from the second Rebbe of Chabad, who said that when two Jews meet, it is two G-dly souls vs. one animal soul. In this summation, the Rebbe demolishes two assumptions: (1) That the animal souls of each Jew can unite in a coalition against the G-dly souls; (2) That unity means one whereas division means two. In this case, the two are united but the one is alone.
First things first: The animal soul exists in a state somewhat like insanity. I do not mean to extend the definition of insanity to all men and simply place them at different points on its spectrum; I have written about this approach before and, if unity is truth, it is the approach to a deep and abounding divisiveness. The only unity down that road is unity in the humility of knowing that none of us knows the truth, and it extends exactly as far as our willingness to not make assertions — an uninspiring prospect.
No, when I say the animal soul exists in a state of insanity, I simply mean that it is fallen, a christian term stemming from their doctrine of original sin which applies to our understanding of that sin as well. The animal soul is fallen, which means that it does not inhabit the world of truth, which means it does not know unity.
The mark of the fallen is their clothes. Not only were Adam and Eve naked before they ate, but they were unaware of their nakedness; the “knowledge of good and evil”‘s instantaneous effect was to make them need to dress themselves.
Good and Evil did not exist before the fruit; nothing was disgusting, repulsive, wrong, nor appealing, attractive, or right. There was only the truth, the naked truth, and man and woman participated in it directly. What need for clothes when everything is a faceted reflection of one unity, an extension of me and I of it, all united as one with itself and its creator?
But then came the fall, and nakedness became unbearable, and we slipped into the obscene slouch we euphemistically call human nature. We became as G-d, who did not only know the creation as he knew Himself but also as a separate reality. We knew good and evil, value judgments that derive from the objective perspective, from separation, from distance, and we pulled on our clothes.
This brings us to the Rebbe’s second point, that unity is not one and division is not two. Unity was one when we were pure intellects, grasping and assimilated into the truth, and two was unthinkable destruction.
But now there are clothes.
Clothes are the symbol of our defeat, our post-hoc means of relating to the world that bombards our senses. Clothes are our nod to external trappings, our acknowledgment that since Adam’s sin nothing in our world is truly as it seems, that what can be known is not essential and that the essence cannot be known. We find the truth now through reflections, we see only the light that finds resistance in an object, but not the object itself. I stare at my coffee mug and know it only as I know it, and not how it knows itself, for my truth is buried in my unconscious and conscious mind, my personality, my faculties, my body, my clothes, and from its end the mug is equally hidden, and to know each other we must work through translations of translations of translations, shifting layers of meaning we pry beneath looking for a light G-d hid away a long time ago.
In this state we are one animal soul. One, and separate. We are one person, stuck in our own heads, writing our own rules for an indifferent universe, writhing under the boot of our own fear, trying to remember a moment in a garden when flesh touched flesh and the uncrossable canyons had not yet breached the earth’s surface. We are like the patients in the asylum, not because (G-d forbid) we have lost grasp on reality but because that same reality has become so fractured that we enter it through 600,000 separate doors.
How do we, dear reader, become two G-dly souls, united, in one reality? If unity is truth, and truth unity, we must work through the clothes, and find the shared reality. We must reverse the insanity of the fruit.
And insanity is not reversed by more information.
The truth, and thus unity, the shared reality, is not to be found through spreading more information or learning techniques of persuasion. These may spread out our one animal a bit further, but it will present nothing another animal cannot swallow and make their own private domain. (This is why it’s always entertaining to see each side in an argument tell the other, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts,” as if this has ended arguments since the beginning of time.) The truth is, in a word, impractical; it is not something we stumble upon in the natural proceedings of speaking to others animal-to-animal.
No, since the beginning of time, since the angel first settled at the gate with his sword of spinning flames, there have been only two ways to find the truth, two ways to unity. Neither are about spreading oneself; both are methods of self-refinement. They have many names: The imminent and the transcendent, the worldly and the unworldly, within garments and above them, the many and the one.
The first way: We take our garments, the notion that we are separated from the truth of everything, perhaps even ourselves, and we work within it. We analyze and dissect our clothes and the exact nature of the word around us. We study the difference between a word and its meaning, between the analogy and the analogue. Through this wisdom we are able to press up against the inside of our eye sockets, to pull our garments tight. We begin to understand what makes them more transparent, more seamless, and we begin to clear away the layers of our own interference that we might find the signal, to impose form upon matter. We find to our delight that as we move closer to the external truth, it moves closer to us, for our new refinement is like X-ray vision for the garments of the world, and we just might meet in the middle. Our garments remember they are only garments, and the sin is reversed.
The second way: We take our garments and we refuse to accept them. We leave the bounds of this fractured discourse, and go searching for the truth. We try to move our own truth through resonance, using art, beauty, and deep emotion as tuning forks that something deep within might shake off its outer trappings and reveal itself. We rail against any rules that might bind us; we speak to people in ways that make them uncomfortable because we don’t care for the proper channels outlined by their garments but for the person within. We indulge in absurdity; we meditate; live as if no ancestor of ours ever dreamed to taste the fruit. In a word, we dare to imagine the world of the garden before the fall, and we are so stubborn and so insistent in our contravention of the accepted paradigm that the world moves before we do, and reality takes on our assertions. Our garments remember they are not garments, and we find ourselves in Eden.
Truth is unity, and unity is truth.
The two ways are one way, and the Lord dwells in places of perfection.
Image from Chagall’s “Adam and Eve”, Oil on Canvas, 1912.