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Home » Bo, Life Is Beautiful

Bo: In The Corner

Submitted by on May 1, 2017 – 2:26 pmNo Comment | 2,593 views

The Apex

When I was in kindergarten, teachers usually sent misbehaving children to the corner. Modern pedagogy has since rejected the corner, but the business world still embraces it – everyone covets the corner office. The corner, a symbol of shame in grade-school, is a symbol of power at the office. Why?

Though the corner is the most coveted office in the building, most people are wary of painting themselves into a corner. With the corner comes power and with power comes peril; the higher you rise, the lower you can fall. The greater the power; the greater the risk. What is it about the corner that stirs yearning and wariness at once? The answer is that it has windows in either direction.

The corner is neither here nor there. It is between east and south, but it is neither east nor south, east has ended and south has not yet begun. When your eastward journey has ended and your southward journey has not yet begun, you are in limbo. In mid-pivot, you are neither here nor there. Vulnerable and exposed, you belong nowhere. Some will say you are in the south-east, but they are wrong. If you were south you wouldn’t be east, if you were east you wouldn’t be south. Fact is, you are nowhere. It’s a risky place to be. Painted into a corner

Yet without a corner there can be no room and no building. The corner is infinitesimal, but it holds the entire structure together. If the two walls aren’t joined at the corner, neither wall will stand for long. It is at once the most vulnerable spot in the room and the most coveted. It is comprised of absolutely nothing, it has no identity or substance, and it is the strongest, the trivet that holds everything together.

The weakest spot is the sturdiest spot and there is no getting around it (no pun intended). This is because the corner is not the absence of direction but the apex of direction. The walls don’t end in the corner, they begin in the corner. The corner is the apex from which both directions extend. East meets south in the corner because the corner transcends them both. The eastward wall and the southward wall find their oneness and strength in the corner.

Thus, the corner that was once a symbol of shame is now the seat of power. It is at once powerful and vulnerable. When you are at the apex you transcend all, but you fit nowhere. You command everything, but you have nothing.[1] The corner is not spatial, as a symbol of space’s apex, it transcends space. It the expression within existence of the great nothingness that preceded existence. The nothingness where everything merges and form which everything emerges.

This is why everyone wants the corner. It hums with power and is without peer. This is also why everyone fears the corner. It is fraught with nothingness; vulnerable and alone.

Only the brave venture into the corner because once you enter, anything is possible. The old has ended, the eastward journey has closed. What lies ahead is unknown, you can’t see around corners. But the possibilities are endless. You can turn south or north, continue east or reverse course. It’s up to you. It depends on what you will make of your corner. Your pivot is up to you. The dizzying array of possibilities can indeed be dizzying. You can slip and fall if you aren’t deliberate and careful, but with vision and courage, you can make great strides.

In Relationships

There are many corners in life. When you are in between relationships, you are in a corner. Your former relationship has ended and your next relationship hasn’t begun. You have no idea if, when or where it might begin. You can’t see around the corner. You feel vulnerable and alone, but you also learn a lot about yourself. When you emerge from this corner and embark on your new course it will be with a surety of purpose and strength of spirit that you didn’t previously possess.

You were in a corner, an empty place of nothingness. You were truly alone. It didn’t feel good. You weren’t confident or strong. You lost faith in yourself. Then you began to find the real you and your corner melded your life story. It brought the two parts of your narrative together and gave you strength. Your corner turned out to be the strong point that helped you graduate from past to present.

The Jew

We can now begin to understand the history of our people. We have had a flickering fortune, it has rarely shined steady. When it was on, it glowed brightly and when it was off, it grew dark. At times we were the strongest nation and at times, the weakest. We have been the most downtrodden of people and yet the only ancient nation to survive intact. What is it that raises us up and hurls us down?

Kabbalists will tell you that our destiny is in the corner, the apex of creation. It is an unstable sphere from which we can emerge either up or down, to the right or the left. Just as we said earlier about buildings, the corner is powerful and vulnerable, it is everything and nothing. We can emerge from it at the top of the world or at the bottom. It depends on which way we pivot.

Throughout history, we were strong when we behaved morally and downtrodden when we turned from G-d. When you are close to G-d, you can rise and fall because the higher you climb, the lower you can fall. It is akin to nuclear energy, a powerful force that can fuel an entire city, but if abused, can turn disastrous. The spiritual energy that G-d invested into Jewish destiny is so powerful that it can raise us to the highest level or drop us into the abyss.

The Horn and the Corner

This explains why Balaam said, “G-d extracted them from Egypt, like the heights of the wild ox.”[2] The ox’s highest points are its horns. When the wild ox is supine, its horns are on the ground just as the fortune of our people was low when we were enslaved in Egypt. But when G-d liberated us, our fortune rose quite suddenly and dramatically, like the proud horns of the wild ox when it rises to its full height.

Speaking of the times when we were saved from distress, King David wrote, “You raised me like the horns of the wild ox.”[3] In pointing out the distinction between the Jew and others, he wrote, “He raised the horn of his people.”[4] By this David meant the pride of the people. But the mystics pointed out that keren, Hebrew for horn, also means corner. G-d’s corner.

Now it all comes together. Our destiny rises suddenly high and dips suddenly low, like the keren, the horns of the ox, because we the Jewish people are in the keren, G-d’s corner. We are at the apex of creation and the summit of history, but we are also at the risk of abyss. Our destiny depends solely on us. On how closely we follow G-d’s Torah. On how we how tightly we pivot inside our corner.

[1] In simple terms, job security is usually better in the mail room than in the corner office.

[2] Deuteronomy 23: 22.

[3] Psalms 92: 11.

[4] Psalms 148: 14. This essay is based on a Chassidic discourse by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi on this verse.