Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Wish

When I was a boy of about 11 or 12 I was excited to stay up for the first time the whole night on the holiday of Shavuot. It was not the idea of studying Torah all through the night, the tradition, that excited me. My enthusiasm for learning was not sufficiently strong to overcome my desire for sleep. Rather it was because I heard that precisely at midnight on Shavuot night the skies open up. And if at that magical time one makes a wish the wish will be granted. While I can't remember the wish I can remember how much I looked forward to making it and to seeing it come true.
Now I am a much older man. I no longer hang on to the magical beliefs in wishes. If I stay up Shavuot night it will be to learn Torah, not to make midnight pleas. And yet I wonder if I still could make such a wish this Tuesday night and know it would be granted, one wish, what would I wish for? What is my one wish?

According to the Midrash Mount Sinai was selected to be the setting for the giving of the Torah for an unusual reason. Sinai was not the tallest mountain in the range nor the widest. In fact, based on grandeur there were many other mountains with a more rightful claim to be the place for the revelation and the giving of the Law. The Midrash tells us that each of these notable mountains claimed the right to the honor. Yet G-d chose Mount Sinai precisely because it posessed humility, because it made no claim to host the single greatest event in human history, an event on par with creation itself.
Sinai's humility made it worthy of the Torah. The message being that Torah resides not in the person grandiose and arrogant, but rather in the person humble and modest.

The Midrash of Sinai is both beautiful and poetic. But it raises some serious questions.
If Mount Sinai was indeed smaller and less impressive than the other mountains then she made no claim to be the setting for the giving of the Torah, not because of humility, but because she really had nothing on which to stake a claim. That Sinai did not say "Let me host the revelation" may not be because she was modest, but rather because she really could boast no unique excellence. Why then should she be given credit for humility? Why then should she host Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah?

At one time in my past I gave a weekly class in Ramchal's "Derech Hashem" "The Way of G-d". One week, to my surprise, a Indian swami, with a keen interest in spirituality came to the class. After the class he sent me a note telling me how meaningful he found it.
While the note was nice to receive it was the way he addressed me that grabbed my attention. He addressed the note "To the Great Rabbi K". Curious about the title, I sought him out and asked what he meant by "the Great Rabbi K". Is there another Rabbi K who is not so great? The swami explained to me that we each have two persons inside us, a little me and a great me. Most people live much of their lives giving expression to the little me within. They hardly know the great me exists. Every so often in heroic moments the great me may emerge. Usually however it goes back into hibernation very quickly and our small me reasserts itself.

The small me is the me that gets caught up in the petty and transient. It is the self within that lives entirely for the moment and with a constricted focus. It is vain and shallow. It is entirely self absorbed. In contrast with the small me, within us we have a great me. The great me sees the larger goals and is invested in the transcendent. The great me is expansive and sees others as partners rather than competitors. The great me is inclusive and loving even of those who are different. The great me is always centered and spiritually alive.

The swami told me that when he addressed the note to "the Great Rabbi K" he meant it for the great me, the one he felt he experienced in the class, and the one he hoped I lived out of most of my life. The swami's concepts are not foreign to us. In our kabbalistic tradition we have a similar idea. We speak of 'gadlus d'mochin' and 'katnus d'mochin' by which we mean to distinguish when a person is living out of an expansive sense of consciousness or a constricted sense. When we are living out of our 'gadlus d'mochin' we are forgiving and loving, we are humble and gracious, we are fused with the Holy spirit. When we are living out of 'katnus d'mochin' we are petty and resentful, short sighted and intolerant, we live for the material moment.

We can be very religious people and live virtually all of our lives out of 'katnus d'mochin' or our small me. On the other hand we can be not religious and yet live with a deep sense of the spiritual, a 'gadlus d'mochin', our great me!

Its true Mount Sinai had no reason to boast. It then is hard to call the Mountain humble. And yet because it had no external gifts upon which to lay a claim to fame, of necessity it had to make itself worthy from within. Mount Sinai had to be the Great Mount Sinai. It could not think to assert credibility on the basis of the superficial and the transient. That is why Mount Sinai was chosen. It alone became fully its greater self. It alone is then worthy of the Torah. The Torah does not belong to those who expand and enlarge their Small me but rather to those who live most fully the self they already are in becoming and living their Great me.

You and I have a challenge every day. Which me will we be? Will we react to every passing wind and lose our center? Will we be petty and carry our resentments? Will we forever get compromised by the transient and suoperficial? Will we be our Small me?
Or will we be larger than our situation, see the bigger picture, forgive and forget, accept and embrace? Will we live our lives out of the Great me?

Both the Small me and the Great me are us.In both we are expressing ourselves. In the one me we condemn ouselves to mediocrity. Through the other me we can embrace the heavens. The true measure of success in our lives will be determined not by any external achievement but rather by which me we choose to live our lives.

And so my wish...if the sky opens up for me this Shavuot is that I live out of the Great me, the gadlut d'mochin. And my prayer for the chag is that you too will know that blessing.

Chag Samayach

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