Have you ever wondered about the relationship between our yearning and our certainty? We often have a subtle sense that our dreams can even point us to the roots of our own unique certainty, and we want to trust their guidance. This is the next level of Marc’s teaching that our yearning is God’s reply to our deepest desires. Marc was asked a question by a student, and his reply, which appeared in his book on certainty, is below:
When teaching these ideas at a recent lecture, a student asked me an important question. If I hold my inner certainty too firmly, won’t it stop me from dreaming? Didn’t Browning teach us that ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?’ How do I maintain the tension between holding my core certainty on the one hand, and the ability to yearn and to dream great dreams of accomplishment? Doesn’t yearning emerge not from what I am but from what I am not?
Great question! Here is what I answered: Inner core certainty is made up of four distinct components. They are uniqueness, value, mission, and the experience of being loved by God. First, I own my uniqueness. There is no one else like me in the world. There is a song that only I can sing. My sense of uniqueness is the direct source of my sense of value. I am valuable because I am irreplaceable. Finally, my indispensability in the world is my mission. To have a mission is to be called to fulfill the task in the world that can only be fulfilled by me. The feeling that I am needed in turn makes me feel loved. The most important teaching of Jewish mysticism is that God’s greatest gift of love to humanity is his allowing himself to need us.
Indeed, the entire institution of biblical mourning is rooted in what one modern thinker termed existential complementarity;[i] that is, the sense that every human being has a special contribution to the fabric of the universe which can be woven by them alone. We mourn because that moment in the world is lost and forever irreplaceable.
It is in the realm of mission that I must yearn, strive, and dream great dreams. All of this can only emerge out of a core certainty of my value and being.
Paradoxically, however, one can only yearn from a place of fullness; emptiness generates not yearning but desperation. It is desperation that moves me to use others in my attempt to fulfill my mission.
In order to strive in the world, in a way that is healthy, I need to always hold a private space in my soul that is not subject to the capricious fortunes of my dreams. I need to do small private acts that reinforce the experience of my value even if none of my dreams are ever realized. If I am a writer and dream of being published by the best house, I need to continue writing for myself even if I am never published. For being a writer is about writing. Similarly the painter must paint because that is her identity even if it is not shown in the Guggenheim gallery. If I dream of being a rock star — but raising my three kids is taking all my time — then I need to know that the songs with which I sing my children to sleep are as holy if not higher than a Madison Square Garden appearance. Most of us, after all, are not the rich and famous, but the relatively poor and anonymous. Core certainty can never be dependent on dreams.
See also Marc’s post on Abraham and the lech lecha call, which means “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and your father’s house.” Unpacked by the Zohar, it is taken to mean not “Go forth,” but “Go to yourself.” The journey is inwards, the vehicle – imagination. The rest of the discussion of this biblical myth moment may surprise you. Click here for more…
 See chapter 9 where we explore the nature of yearning in greater depth and arrive at a somewhat different conclusion
[i] See Joseph Soloveitchik Eulogy for the Rebbetzein of Talne ; for an extended Bibliography of R. Soloveitchik covering his work and the scholarship on his work until the time of his death. See Mordechai Gafni, Annotated Bibliography of Joseph Soloveitichik Daat, 1993.