Right before the Kol Nidrei services, the Rabbi noticed little Daniel was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the synagogue. It was covered with names and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time so the rabbi walked up, stood beside the boy and said quietly, “Good evening, Daniel.”
“Good evening, Rabbi,” the young boy responded, still focused on the plaque. “Rabbi, what is this?” Daniel asked.
“Well,” answered the rabbi, “it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.”
Daniel turned to the rabbi and asked thoughtfully, “Was that the early service or the late one?”
Perspective. Perspective means the door your mind chooses to enter into an experience. It determines the path you take and the door through which you exit to evaluate what has happened to you. Spirituality requires a particular perspective. It demands three qualities that contradict modern life: living in the present, suppression of the ego and refusing to compete.
So often we too live in our fantasies, and then become disappointed and even angry when they do not become a reality. We want our spouses, our children, our parents, our friends to be something they are incapable of being. We want our spouses to be our best friends, our lovers and good parents simultaneously. We want our children to be kind, great students, successful at sports, cultured, have lots of friends — people we can show off and brag about. We want our friends to be loyal, interesting, caring, attentive and lots of fun. But do we let them be them? God, and spirituality, connect only when we listen closely to the soul of another human being by hearing out his or her pain. When we offer support and create this kind of connection, then we will realize what theologian Martin Buber described as the “Eternal Thou” — a powerful sense of God’s presence that emerges out of our faith and trust in the goodness of one another. But we must be willing to see, to listen and to do. Spirituality demands living in the moment.
We live in our fantasies of the future because we think we can control our world. This is a delusion of the ego. So the Yiddish expression puts it, “Man plans and God laughs.” We require egos because it enables us to protect ourselves. But spiritual life demands humility, suppressing our egos. Most of us spend our waking hours silently asking the question, “What do I need now?” And then, like children pursuing their own private needs, we look out for number one — ourselves. But God throws diamonds in our paths, and we walk over them, so engrossed with our own needs.
We are where we are supposed to be, and now, this moment, is the only time that exists. This moment is most important, because now is the only moment you really ever possess. You discover your place in the universe through your unity with the person you encounter right now. So why would you compete to the detriment of someone else? Why get angry at work about someone else’s success, or compete to buy the better car or house, or hold a grudge and seek vengeance? Why harm that person? That person’s success is your success. By being a witness to another person’s existence and by treating him or her as an extension of yourself, you extend both of you. Competition, grudges and vengeance vex and eat at the soul. If you are connected to the person next to you, then you are connected to the person after that, and part ultimately of all humanity. But you must start by saying, “It is not my ego that comes first, but my unity with the world and humanity. To know that, I must suppress my ego and be part of the world, and the only time I can do that is in this moment, right now.”
Collected remembrances of stories, the “now” moments where we touched a life indelibly, ought be our greatest concern. This is the life of the spirit living in the moment, egos diminished, as one with humanity and the world. Let us make our spirit the first concern. JN
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider is the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale and is on the executive board of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix.