Last week’s article, Circle
and Squares, discussed how circles and squares are found
in every aspect of life – both on earth and in the
cosmos, in our psyches, our physics and our metaphysics.
The purpose of existence is to fuse the two; to join both
structure (the linear square) and beyond structure (the
circle), the finite and the infinite.
Two questions remained lingering: How is it possible to
synthesize two opposites – the square and the circle?
And perhaps even more pertinent: Can a circle marry a square?
These questions will be answered by first gaining a better
understanding of the circle/ square dynamic. One place where
circles play a vital role is in a Jewish wedding ceremony.
Two circles mark the ceremony: The Chupah (canopy),
which encircles and encompasses both bride and groom in
its all-surrounding embrace. And the spherical wedding ring
placed on the bride’s index finger.
According to Torah law marriage entails two distinct stages:
The first stage, called kidushin or eirusin,
is the engagement and betrothal, when a couple committs
to each other, establishing a formal and exclusive connection.
They have sanctified their union and bound themselves to
each other. The couple, however, are still two distinct
individuals. The second stage, nisuin, is when
they actually become one entity – they become elevated
(nisuin from the word elevated) to a higher state
of being; instead of two they are now one.
Stage one is traditionally achieved through the wedding
ring. Stage two is accomplished through the chupah, encircling
both bride and groom.
The wedding ring is a legal commitment, represented by
a monetary exchange. But it still is only a ring on a finger;
a small gesture, not an all encompassing committment. The
chupah, on the other hand, covers and surrounds bride
and groom completely – embracing their entire bodies
The Tzemech Tzedek (Ohr HaTorah Berocho p. 1845)
wonders about the difference between these two circles marking
a wedding ceremony: In mystical terminology the circles
represnt the level of makif, a transcendent energy
that surrounds, but does not fully enter. Since both the
wedding band and the chupah are circular, what,
asks the Tzemech Tzedek, distinguishes between them?
He explains the difference with the imagery of the square
and the circle. Though in the general cosmic structure the
circle precedes the square, the energy first surrounds then
permeates, yet when we break it down into finer detail,
the “circle-square” structure repeats itself
continuously throughout the process. The first initial circle
proceeds to evolve into a “line” (yosher), which
in turn conceives a new “circle,” followed by
another square and circle, ad infinitum. By way of example,
think of the transmission process from teacher to student.
Initially the ideas are “over the student’s
head,” surrounding but not yet fully entering his
grasp. Then as the student acclimates himself to the ideas,
he assimilates, integrates and internalizes them, the circle
becomes, in effect, a square, entering the “box”
of the students mind. But these same ideas (which have been
internalized in a square for the advnaced student) remain
over the head of a less advanced student. And so it goes,
level after level, in which the “square” (internalized)
energy on a higher level, remains a removed “circle,”
hovering above the level below. “The internal (penimiyos)
of a higher level becomes the transcendent (makif)
of the lower level.”
We thus have two types of circles: A circle that precedes
and is higher than a square. And a circle that is lower
and follows a square. Visualize a large circle, which contains
a square within it, stretched to the edges of the circumference,
and then a smaller circle inside the square, and another
smaller square inside the circle. Keep going as far as you
imagine. Like reflecting mirrors you’ll have a certain
picture of the inner workings of existence and of our beings.
Using this imagery the Tzemech Tzedek explains the difference
between the two stages in marriage: The first circle is
a “relative circle” – it is only a circle
compared to the levels beneath it. This is the circle of
the wedding band. The circle of the Chupah is an
“absolute circle” – one that totally encompasses and equalizes
all those that stand under the chupah, i.e. everything
inside the circle.
What is the psychological and personal application of this
concept? Why do we need these two stages and what is the
difference between them?
These two stages – two circles and the box in between –
capture the two components necessary in a healthy and enduring
Love is a deceptively simple word. What the elaborate wedding
process teaches us is the inner engineering of love. By
dissecting it we can make it work better, identify the areas
that need reinforcement, and those that may be hurt and
Love actually consists of two overriding dimensions: 1)
Closeness and intimacy – internalization of the relationship.
But it also requires 2) a dimension of mystery and awe –
a surrounding type of aura of your partner that remains
beyond you. Eliminate (or compromise) one of these two dimensions
and the relationship will wither (we’re not talking
about a relationship of convenience, but a one of passion
A relationship requires both the circle and the square
(line) – the transcendent energy and the internal
Breaking it further down, the circle itself divides into
two dimensions: If a relationship consisted only of the
two elements, closeness and awe, the two would possibly
never converge. Ultimately, the goal in a full relationship
is the unification not just of the two people but also of
their “circular” and “square-like”
dimensions. And this is achieved by the so-called “relative
circle. From one (the higher) perspective the "realtive
circle" is actuall;y a square, but from another (the
lower) perspective it is a “circle.” In psychological
terms: You sense mystery in your beloved, but in time you
gain entry and can somewhat internalize it and grow in the
process, only to discover, like the shedding petals of a
flower, new and hitherto deeper mysteries lying within.
The wedding ring serves this role, to remind you of the
ungraspable “circle” in your bride, but also
to tell you that with devotion you can access its power.
The chupah serves the role of reminding you that
there are always new mysteries, and that ultimately there
is a dimension that transcends both of you.
We see from this that the concept of marrying ”circle”
and “square” is not only possible but actually
a necessary component in every marriage.
The question however remains: How? How is it possible to
unite these two opposites?
This brings us back to the chupah. Its transcendent
power, which equalizes everything inside its “circle,”
elicits a sense of utter bittul – a nullification
and suspension of self and self-interest.
Bittul is the ultimate secret to enduring success
and to all lasting relationships. When the two people in
a relationship both have bittul, and are driven not
merely by personal gain and “what is in it for me?”
mentality, but they both share and surrender to a vision
that is beyond them both, to build and home and family,
to generate an energy in this world that transcends their
immediate needs – this opens them up to receive the
full blessing and benefit that comes showering down from
the “great circle,” which transcends all ups
and downs and all gradations, changes and vicissitudes in
When a new couple stand under the chupah they are
in effect declaring exactly that: We submit to the ultimate
mystery that hovers above us like the canopy over our heads.
Yet, love cannot remain a hovering circle. It must also
enter their beings and effect their lives. When the bride
and groom look at the ring on her finger, it reminds them
of the "circle" entering life, affecting one finger
(a line), and traveling onward. Slowly, one step at a time,
the circle energy permeates, only to reveal another circle.
An so it goes in a healthy relationship: Two people on one
journey – a perpetual journey, that brings them close
as “one flesh,” while also exposing them to
the mysteries beyond.
With this bittul – one that transcends the very
difference between the infinite “circle” and the defined
“square” – a circle and a square can come together. When
each partner feels that “it’s not all about me” and my personality,
but we have a mission to accomplish together, then their
differences become their assets: complementary forces driven
to achieve a higher goal. At the same time, the love becomes
internalized, infusing them with warmth and nurturing, nourishing
their souls and bodies to thrive and grow.
So for all you lovebirds, remember the secret to enduring
and healthy relationships: Bittul. Go beyond yourself
and you will find true and everlasting love. If you are
a circle learn and appreciate the virtues of the square.
If you are a square learn and appreciate the virtues of
the circle. Each has something to give. Each has something
to learn. Each is an equal part of a mysterious puzzle that
is conceived in the cosmos but plays itself out on earth.
In such a world, with such an attitude, a circle and a
square can indeed marry and enjoy a happy life together.
Living happily ever after.
* * *
The Parsha connection:
If the scouts were circles, Korach was a square.
Or at least, that’s how he presented himself. After
witnessing the debacle of the scouts, how they were so wrong
with their circular approach to life, wanting to remain
removed and insulated from the material universe, the “wise”
Korach argued the other extreme: We must enter the land
of the “squares,” and play by their rules. “Who
needs leaders?” Korach argued, “when the entire
nation is holy and G-d is amongst them.”
But Korach was also terribly wrong. Squares can’t
survive without circles, just as circles can’t prevail
Indeed, each of the three Hebrew letters comprising the
name “Korach” are square shaped: Kuf.
Reish, Chet, each one with its own distortion
of the symmetrical square letter heh (from G-d’s
Divine name): Kuf is a square with a protruding left
leg. Resh is a square without a left leg. Ches
is a closed square, with no release point (see The
Gap). The only way a square can survive is either to
be completely closed (like a closed mem), or through
a spout of bittul, the heh, which has a balanced
left leg, with a space between it and the roof of the box.
Korach was firmly grounded in the world of the squares.
Wealthy, powerful, shrewd, well-connected – Korach
had mastered the “square” game. While the scouts
were not ready and not willing to enter the material land,
Korach was all too ready and all too willing. He had it
all worked out.
True, the scouts sinned in their wish to remain spiritual
and not enter the material. The other extreme, however,
is equally problematic. Ahh, you want materialism too much
– no that will not do. Enter the land, but enter with
trepidation. Engage the world, but engage it with a measure
of detachment. Immerse in daily pursuits, but never immerse
too much; even on earth, reserve a space for heaven. Even
on the ground keep your head in the skies, looking up, yearning,
aspiring. Never get too comfortable in this “square”
Know that you were sent here, against your soul’s
wishes. “Al korchach atah chai,” you were coerced
to live. Because your soul’s natural inclination is to reach
upward. Spirit ascends unto spirit. “The spirit of the animal
descends downward,” as does the animal’s eyes, however “the
spirit of man ascends upwards.” Like a flame, always rising,
forever licking the air above. Were in not for the grounding
wick, the flame would expire in its upward reach.
Our souls are like flames. “The Divine flame is the
human soul.” And like a flame, our souls gravitate
upwards. Even as we enter the “squareness” of
existence, we must never forget that we come from a greater
place. We live here, occupy space and time on this material
plane, but we come from beyond. The saddest thing to see
is when we lose our innocence, when we become resigned and
give up on our hopes and dreams.
Yes, you have been sent here. Not to remain sheltered in
the circular world of spirit. But even as you fulfill your
mission, always retain your desire to break out, your drive
to get out of the “box” and rise toward transcendence.
Enter the “square,” but remain a circle.
With dedication and bittul you can join the two