Are we born with an inclination to certain traits and attitudes, or is it our environment that shapes us into the people we become? This is the nature vs. nurture debate which we have all thought about, with most of us probably concluding that both contribute to the people we become. Yes, as I consider my own children and grandchildren, I can say that that I saw qualities and attributes when they were young children that have only intensified as they have grown older. Self-assuredness, forceful, demanding, daring, shyness, independent; these are among the traits that I have seen in my own children and grandchildren, and in the children of our congregation, many of whom I have watched grow into adults.
But what about those people who grow up in deprived settings? Those who experience inconsistent love and security, those who get little reinforcement for achieving or for “good” behavior? Some of these people do overcome their so-called limitations and become extraordinary human beings.
I suppose that the debate between nature vs. nurture will never be resolved, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why there are so many different “schools” of thought regarding human development.
People identify Kabbalah as Jewish mysticism-the attempt to understand great mysteries of life and our universe. I came upon an intriguing passage that you might consider. Rabbi Chaim Vital was a kabbalist (mystic) who lived in the 15th century. He wrote that just as the world was created using four elements-earth, air, fire and water-so too each person was created using those same elements.
For each individual, one particular element is dominant and this, to a large degree, determines your essential character and strengths. I have been thinking about Rabbi Vital’s theory and how it applies to me and the people I love. I share them with you as a way of exposing you to a little bit of Kabbalah, and wonder if you can see yourself in any (or all) of these elements.
FIRE tends to rise; the flames reaching up and out to consume and conquer. The positive aspect of this element is the desire to strive and accomplish, to reach great heights, and to lead and take responsibility. People who possess this dominant element are leaders and visionaries and tend to be goal-oriented and ambitious.
EARTH is low and heavy. It stays in one place, continuously stepped on and caught in gravity’s domain. People who have more of this element tend toward laziness, sadness and despair. They have a heaviness about them, and their main challenge is pushing toward accomplishment and growth.
WATER spreads and goes everywhere. It goes with the flow, literally, naturally unbound and unlimited. People with a “water” nature have an easy time giving, connecting with others, and spreading themselves to satisfy the needs of others.
AIR is the most complicated of the elements. It blows one way and another, never fixed permanently anywhere. These people may be more spiritual, idealistic, and living in the world of ideas. They may also have a hard time sticking to routine and order, as they assume they can be everywhere at the same time.
While I suspect that most of us can see aspects of ourselves in each of these elements, I believe that it all speaks to the “miracle” that is every human life and those aspects of ourselves that we seek to better understand.
Please let me know if you are interested in learning more about Kabbalah, as we are in the process of arranging a course that will delve into some of the ideas that seek to expand our awareness of ourselves and the complex universe in which we live.
I wish you Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi David Greenberg