A few months ago, an old college chum tracked me down via the internet. We hadn’t been in touch for over 40 years but he had vivid memories of me.
“I had never met anyone who questioned things as much as you did,” he wrote. “You were critical, cynical, sarcastic; didn’t seem to care who liked you or what they thought abot you; yet you could be very kind and thoughtful…Forgive me from quoting from The Lonely Crowd (Note: a scathing indictment of conformity in the 50s) but you seemed autonomous and inner-directed.”
Lovely to hear. Especially since by my own recollection, I was a snide, wiseguy, scared, self-involved, faithless and goal-less.
This started me thinking about how subjective our perceptions can be. Could it be that the chracter traits we dislike about ourselves are viewed by others as virtues? Conversely, are our proudest aspects sometimes seen as defects? Can we ever see through the veil of pesonality to experience another’s true essence? Is there really a “real self” (that elusive core the therapists are always trying to get us access)? And if so, is it the same as the spark of G-d each Jew claims as his/her own eternal flame?
In his book Spirit Matters, Micahel Lerner suggests a five minute exercise to put us in touch with our own holiness and that of others:
“Next time you are at work, or at a social gathering, look at each person, one by one. See each one as embodiments of G-d, one of G-d’s faces. Become aware of the many resistances you have to seeing others as embodiments of G-d. Are you focussing on all the “faults” of these others? You know that you have “faults” as well; but that doesn’t make you any less an embodiment of Spirit.
“Has someone taught you that your real value is that you are so different from others in some respect or other – and that it’s only the ways that we are different that make us really count? You are certainly valuable in your uniqueness. But you are also valuable for what you have in common with everyone else – your ability to embody and emanate Divine Engery.”
Nice idea though it may not be so simple to pull off. Jews are critical enough to find human flaws even in our great patriarchs. One of the things we do best is give advice—usually an indirect way of saying “You know what’s wrong with you?” A famous quote attributed to Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi is “The most difficult thing about being a rabbi is you have to really love Jews.”
On the other hand, G-d is often easy to love. Thus, this Hashem R Us approach may be worth a try.