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Humility as a Gift

Jewish Potentiality- Ki Tissa, 5783

In 1930 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his son Eduard:

“It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance”.

But true cyclists know that one of the signs you master your bicycle is your ability to keep the balance even when standing still.

So it goes in our life journeys. We all move forward and grow; we achieve objectives and fix problems. Constantly evolving is part of human nature.

But being on a path of self-improvement can also make us feel that we are lacking or not good enough.

If we never stop and enjoy things as they are, we risk missing the beauty of the human journey.

One of the Meor Einayim’s comments on Parashat Ki Tissa offers a powerful teaching on how to find wholeness in our imperfection..

The wisdom of pausing

We live in a time of extreme abundance and wealth, which also gave us the liberty to pursue self-fulfillment-a real luxury up until a few decades ago.

A young girl sitting cross legged on her balanced bicycle without moving. She also has a bag with Wine and a Kidush cup, . She is dressed in blue, and has long brown hair,. there are rose flowers on the side of the road and. some trees and blue sky in the background.

However this also makes many of us feel lacking or not good enough. The question then has to be raised: will we, ever, be good enough?

We are a work in progress, and that’s part of the beauty of life.

And maybe we just need to balance self-improvement with sanity breaks. Maybe the secret to self-improvement is to know when to pause, and affirm that what we are, right now, is enough.

Pausing in the midst of work is much more than taking a breath. In many instances, non-action is essential to completing any creative endeavor.

We see this in activities such as yoga, painting or writing: in order to perfect any creative endeavor, we need to stop doing at some point.

But when we are obsessed with the destination, we are not present, and we risk missing the journey.

We have to regularly stop and take new perspectives on our lives. This is the best way to honor and enjoy it.

Shabat is actually exactly that, a 24-hour mindfulness retreat, a break from the “rats’ race” of our life.

It is an opportunity to be present with our loved ones, without occupying ourselves with mundane matters such as work, mortgage or politics.

Shabbat is an opportunity to just enjoy being, to share company, prayers, reading, and meals together. No notifications or phones ringing. No going anywhere. Resting in the moment, and by so doing, saying that this moment is “perfect” as it is.

This may be a reason why shabbat has become more popular recently. Many people see it as a true opportunity for a digital detox, and for taking the true weekly break that will enable them to stay sane in the long run.

“Shabbat” comes from the verb ‘lishbot” meaning “to rest“ or “to stop working”. The instruction to “stop” working one day every week, is meant to help us remember exactly that.

But this creates another problem: when it comes to inner work -a process that is never ending, can we really pause and stop the work?

Inner work is real work

Most of Shabat’s prohibitions were not specified in the Torah; instead our ancient sages suggested that we are to withhold from performing the activities that were used for the creation of the tabernacle (Mishkhan), where God’s spirit dwells.

The Meor Einayim takes this rhetoric into the world of inner work. When we were asked to build a tabernacle, we were actually asked to become ourselves a tabernacle, a place for God to dwell in:

“The blessed Holy One dwells within Israel and each of us has to become a mishkan for God.”

It is our responsibility, as part of our spiritual practice, to make ourselves a space, for the divine presence, the source of Life, to dwell within us.

We can do that by “emptying” ourselves from our ego, by working on selfness. Only by making space within can we invite the Divine to dwell in us.

This concept also exists, in one way or another, in other spiritual traditions such as Sufism, Buddhism and mystical Christianity.

Since clearing the ego can take a lifetime, our practice is an ever ongoing project. Can we ever rest if we are imperfect?

When right now is perfect

Shabbat, then, should come as great news, a time to rest from the constant work of self-improvement.

Yet the Meor Einayim brings a talmudic challenge to that idea

‘The sages said that [Shabbat] should appear in your sight as a time when all work is completed and you lack for nothing.”

According to the ancient Jewish sages, one can stop only when the work is complete.

Yet the work, when it comes to our spiritual practice, is never completed. Does this mean that we can never pause, and just enjoy being?

We constantly need to improve ourselves. But to honor Life, we also need to stop and appreciate the small moments. Talk about a paradox.

The Meor Einayim suggests an antidote for this conundrum: Anavah (humility).

“Considering yourself as nothing, you will have no lack; "Lack" does not apply to one who is naught.

Through this sophisticated rhetoric, the Hasidic Master turns the problem on its head: if we realize that we are nothing much, there can be no lack. So then, in a way, we are “complete”.

Paradoxically, it is our very imperfection that makes us whole.

When we pause on shabbat, we affirm that everything-including ourselves, is “perfect” as it is.

This is possible when we accept that we are nothing much.

Then, we can rest from the constant journey of self-improvement, and just acknowledge that right now, we are whole (shlemim). Just for this one day of the week, we can say that everything is perfect as it is, and enjoy.

After all, isn’t this the Art of life?

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