An editor once told me, “Great writing should read like a hot knife through butter.” What an analogy! The author has to work the text so that the ideas flow seamlessly. The form and function must become one entity. Sure, you can leave the reader intellectual or emotional work to do in processing the writing, but the actual text itself must unite with what it is coming to convey, allowing the reader to cut through it as a hot knife through butter.

Few things in life are seamless. We live in polarized worlds—some more than others—but opposed nonetheless. Each of us, though, has the possibility of finding balance. We can generate powers within our being that blend other diverse aspects of who we are in one smooth continuity. One of them is the emotional ability Kabbalah terms tif’eret, the translation of which includes “balance,” “truth,” “harmony,” “beauty,” “compassion” and “empathy.”

Each soul attribute is mapped onto the body

To call it “seamless” appears to be a misnomer. After all, truth and compassion, balance and empathy seem to be distinct from one another. More so, one could even say they contain opposite dimensions: compassion feels somewhat blurry and truth absolute, for example. What does beauty have to do with empathy, other than that being empathic is considered a “nice” thing to do? When we look at the translations, we realize that tif’eret is way more complex than the literal translation of the word, “beauty.” What, in actuality, is it?

One entry point is the body. Tif’eret is associated with the heart center. In fact, each soul attribute is mapped onto the body. According to the same model, love is associated with the right shoulderblade. The manifestation of love, the attribute of chessed, is linked with the right arm. So too, awe—or fear—is associated with the left shoulder. Its manifestation, in the form of restraint, discipline and respect, is connected with the left arm. In this way, each of the mystical spheres on the Tree of Life is mapped onto the soul, and in turn finds a visual representation in the form of the human body.

Clearly, the heart center is a middle point in the body. It lies at the center of the spine, which itself forms the center of the body, connecting the top of the skull with the coccyx. Mystically, too, the heart is a point of blending, a coming together of different attributes in a unique way. What’s distinct about it is that whereas our heart-tif’eret center brings together diverse feelings, the sum total of those feelings is no longer the individual points that form it, but something entirely new, seamless in its dimensions. It is often described as a blending of love and awe, lovingkindness and respect. In truth, it is much more.

Each of the abilities of the soul blends various components. Each covers a subtle range of differentiation. We don’t just love or respect. Our ways of thinking and our feelings might shift from love to anger. More often, the very same feeling changes in delicate ways—at times from moment to moment. Take love, for example. Sometimes the love is pure and manifest. At other times, we might need to draw from fear—even anger—to keep the love going.

The very same feeling changes in delicate ways—at times from moment to moment

In real life, that looks like setting boundaries in a relationship; taking a stance against those things that oppose the ideals you love and subscribe to; or fearing being separated from the one you love, and thus doing all you can to nurture the connection. That’s what we’d call “fear in love.” You’re fully in love mode. Everything is about bringing more of it into the world. It’s just that you do it in diverse ways, some of which might even appear contrary to the central goal of generating love and connection.

Conversely, there’s “love in fear.” What are the real-life scenarios that display this particular color on the emotional spectrum? Enticing someone with a reward to get them to toe the line, or supporting causes that rid the world of evil. Here, you’re fully in “fear” or “awe” mode. All the shades of that restraint serve the ultimate goal of creating healthy boundaries, and ultimately, awe of G‑d.1

Yet, despite the fact that in both the above examples there’s a merging of opposites, the love is still love, and the fear is fear. The variegation is there in a way that is subordinate to the primary attribute.

Tif’eret is different. Here, in the heart, love and fear unite as one. The resulting ability is something new and distinct.

We can take an example from another soul power. Being a balance point, it also lies on the spine, only one center up from the heart. This is da’at, our ability to know the world. It is the third of three intellectual faculties,2 the first of which is our ability to conceptualize3 and the second to analyze.4 Da’at is the aspect of knowledge where we internalize the information we’ve been processing.

This kind of knowing allows us to absorb ideas because we have explored them subtly, and thereby have become intimate with the concepts. The word is the name of one of the trees in the Garden of Eden—the Tree of Knowledge. That knowledge was about the distinction between good and evil. Whereas we are asked not to judge others, Torah living means that we will make distinctions between what is right and wrong.5 In that sense, the attribute of Knowledge is associated with the color gray, or silver. It’s the place where our mind can sustain opposites. In fact, it is the point where all the parts of an idea fuse into one whole.

When we can do that, we can take ideas in as part of ourselves, because at that point we are no longer defensive or exploring an idea with an agenda. We are truly open to what it has to tell us.6 This is the reason our prayer services end with the words, “You must know it today and bind it to your hearts.” There’s a domino effect that happens with intimate, subtle knowledge. Once you get it, you automatically absorb the concept into your heart in a way that’s user-friendly, allowing not only for emotional resonance with ideas, but also for new action.

Tif’eret is different. Here, in the heart, love and fear unite as one

Tif’eret enacts in the heart what da’at enacts in the mind. It is the point where not ideas, but emotions, unite to emerge as a powerful new force, full of subtlety, experienced empirically, and which open us to a much vaster world than the one we’ve lived in without it.

Think of it as two people with different personalities uniting in marriage to form a whole. Or better yet, imagine your own faculties of head and heart, thought and feeling. They are so different as to contradict each other: thought is cold and objective, feeling is warm and subjective. You can live your life as a person who is detached from one or the other. Or, you can live in a way where your mind acknowledges your heart, and vice versa, but where the two are in constant conflict with each other. Alternatively, you can marry the two, creating inner peace. What you generate within yourself is akin to the child that is an entirely new person born of the bodies of both mother and father.7

Tif’eret, then is a particular kind of balance in the heart. It is akin to da’at in that there is no splitting; opposites disappear, leaving only wholeness and unity.

In order to generate this kind of consciousness, whether in the mind or heart, a third attribute is needed. When two opposites meet, you need a higher entity to bring resolution. Or if, for example, you’re in an argument, you need something or someone higher to effect healing and resolution. It doesn’t matter whether that thing is a loftier internal consciousness or a person outside of you. What matters is that the healing insight is coming from a more transcendent place. As Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

In Kabbalistic terms, the heart-point turns to the supra-consciousness in order to fuse love and respect. Ultimately, all our soul abilities derive from this one indivisible point of our highest supra-consciousness. By pulling from the source, where love and respect are one prior to individuating, the heart is able to create a new experience.

When two opposites meet, you need a higher entity to bring resolution

We call it tif’eret, “beauty,” because as the individual elements of love and awe disappear, they are reborn in a more glorious whole.

One finds the same notion of beauty when it comes to the arts. An artist can be technically proficient, even excellent, but the work will lack life. Aesthetically, it dies on the canvas. In such a work there is line, color, form. But each is present on the canvas in a way that calls attention to itself. By contrast, the great works of art display a merging of all the components in such a way that a new, living, compelling entity is born of them.

This beauty is not monochrome. Think of a Rothko. To the uninitiated, one may superficially dismiss these creations of genius as “a color slapped on canvas! I could do it!” We’ve all heard some aesthetic peasant say the same. But if you take even just a moment, the beauty of the layers and subtlety shines through in a luminous, vibrating surface that speaks of all the subtlety, the myriad layers, of the universe.

Take even a work by Franz Klein. Seen in person, the edges of his lines shimmer with individuality; the white is not “white,” and the black is not “black.” Even in his minimalist renditions, Klein captures the full range of life’s subtlety.

Tif’eret is spiritual artistry, spiritual beauty. It’s the ability to marry two opposites and form a uniquely new dimension in the heart. That’s why it’s referred to by so many different names. The blending gives our heart-center a full range from truth to empathy, beauty to compassion. The common point between them all is the idea of opposites merging. Truth is not one-sided. If I really want to know the truth, I have to look at it from all angles, my perspective and yours. In that sense it’s like Beauty, Balance and Harmony.

Truth is not one-sided

At the psychological level of Compassion and Empathy, balance is also the guiding light. Here, you are no longer driven by your personal pre-dispositions. In tif’eret, I can take myself out of myself. Maybe I’m a person who is naturally kind, or the opposite. When it comes to Balance and Compassion, my personal inclinations are no longer the driving force of my choices. Here it’s all about Truth. What does the situation ask of me? I ask, “What is needed?” rather than “What would I want? What do I think is right?”

Mystically, we said that love and respect die, or disappear, momentarily to be reborn as something new. At the humanistic level, the same thing applies. To enter into compassion means that my ego dies in the interaction. I can feel the other person as she feels herself.

Here, in the heart, we are soul-artists. We can compose a text that’s as easy to cut through as a knife through hot butter. We can create jazz or symphonies by allowing for all of reality to fill our lives, rather than live according to the rules we’ve gone by for the past X number of decades. We can create masterpieces, as we access the vast world we’ve been missing out on without all that balance and beauty.