As we count up toward Shavuot, we are reminded that Klal Yisrael, as an entirety, received the Torah. In this essay, the final one in this blog’s miniseries “Grateful to be a Yid,” let’s look at what we become empowered to do after we get over ourselves, that is, after we stop focusing on judging other Jews and start concentrating on self-improvement.
Recently, a pal and I were discussing what’s attractive in people. We agreed that we are drawn to middot. Granted, friends with fiduciary means are able, if motivated, to pay our way at coffee time. Granted, friends endowed with muscles can help us get our packages onto buses. Granted, friends who are whiz kids are able to aid us in mental crunches. Yet, money, strength and intelligence are fleeting. Whereas these qualities are necessary, they are far from sufficient for good living. More important is an overarching modesty, i.e. a yearning to have our ways corrected in order to constantly better our internal worlds.
Happily, the path to holiness known as self-betterment is not indigenous to location or to hashkafa. Rather, such a route is dependent on what we think, on what we say, and on how we act. Searching for means to link to The Boss, guarding our mouths from evil, specifically from loshen hora, and engaging in deeds of loving kindness, all are means to developing ourselves.
What’s more, these tracks for self-guided growth, especially the particulars of: truth, proper use of time, diligence, honor, serenity, gentleness, cleanliness, patience, order, humility, righteousness, frugality, and guarding one’s tongue, can be embraced whether we live in North America, in Europe, in South Africa, in the Middle East, or elsewhere. Also, these treads are not dependent upon our perspective, that is, upon the nature of our religious ideology.
In all of the social worlds in which I’ve merited to live, proper conduct has been valued. It was just as important to my American, secular circle of associates, as it was to my American religious circle of associates, as it was to my Israeli, religious circle of associates that: we had matzah on Pesach, that we prayed for children stricken with cancer, that we made an effort to speak authentic, good word about each other and to avoid gossip, and that we had a spiritual bridge, a connection to Shemyim.
Difference of doing need not be awkward. Diversity has a place, within the context of Torah’s rules. There’s room for us to applaud our peers who bless their children without us getting caught up in whether our peers appoint the same adults, during the same occasions, to sanctify those younger heads, as we do to sanctify our families’ younger heads. Likewise, it’s okay, maybe even meritorious, circumstances depending, if our friends and relatives use different hecsherim than we do. Perhaps they are more stringent. Perhaps they are less so, but are more meritorious in the degree to which they have extended themselves in order to practice the stricture.
Taking it upon ourselves to measure our dear ones’ worth, has v’shalom, no matter the topic, is ill-suited to our aspiring to greater and greater levels of devotion. More exactly, we ought to focus on building up our own souls and on building them up one small bit at a time.
Whether or not we Jews are Blessed to live in Jerusalem, Blessed to be able to devote the majority of our time to learning Torah, or Blessed to know how to take joy from the mundanities that make up our days and nights, is, at some point, moot. To espouse the opposite is problematic, is a position, which implies that only a highly limited numbers of ways of existing count at all as good. Instead, let’s, no matter where we stand, literally or figuratively, hold our own selves accountable for our mentations, words, and behaviors.
It remains of no benefit to us to claim we are stuck because we have lost our motivation to work on ourselves or to claim that we are stuck by dint of our geography or by dint of our religious practice. Ascension has, does, and will continue to rely on our acceptance of our starting points coupled with our willingness to move forward from those places. Neither our location nor our hashkafa, ultimately, can impede us if we reach for personal betterment. We ought not to waste our resources disparaging ourselves, accordingly. We ought not to cry for opportunities we perceive as missed because of our topoi.
“Neither Location nor Hashkafa” concludes “Grateful to be a Yid.” Next week, this blog hopes to look at “Snoods, Sheitelen, and Other Matters of the Head.”