As I read Rabbi Andy Vogel’s words, I immediately recall the story of Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Radoshitz. He traveled to see his rebbe, Reb Yaakov Yitzchak, the Chozeh of Lublin. When Rabbi Yissachar challenged his rebbe, “Show me one simple way all of us may serve God,” the Chozeh replied: “One way? Are we all the same that one practice would suit everyone?” After much discussion between the two men, Rabbi Yissachar pleaded, “Then how shall I respond to those who inquire about connecting with God?” The Chozeh explained, “Tell them this: Carefully examine the ways of your own heart. See what evokes your passion for God and holiness and then, do exactly that — with all your heart and your might.”
Our commentator is not eliminating the communal structure of halakhah and mitzvot. Rather, he is reinforcing an individual relationship between the self and God — one that is necessary to keep the communal structure intact. Within the story, we are being asked to ponder the ways in which our own heart communicates with our Creator. If we find our heart is silent, then there is work to be done.
— Nicole Guzik
Rabbi Andy Vogel’s commentary immediately brings to mind the teaching of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha that everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: “I am but dust and ashes,” and on the other: “The world was created for me.” I often return to this saying, since it speaks to the delicate balance that I believe we must strive for. It serves nobody if we diminish our own light under the guise of humility. We have each been given unique gifts, perspectives, and tools that can be applied in myriad ways to bring more light, joy, hope, and promise into this world.
And yet, if we only believe that we are the center of the universe, there can be devastating consequences, on both personal and societal levels. Our individualism can easily be a curse if not kept in check by some sense of the greater good, if not informed by the recognition of our own imperfections, and, as Vogel explains, of the awareness that we are prone to missing the deeper truths.
— Nati Passow
Each person’s way is right (yashar).” Rearrange the letters of the word yashar and you get the word shir (song). As Rav Kook teaches, “There is one who sings the song of one’s own life… There is another who sings the song of his people… There is another who sings the song of humanity… There is one who rises toward wider horizons until he links himself with all existence, with all God’s creatures, with all worlds, and he sings with all of them.” We love to challenge our intellects with binaries (either this or that) that make for “delicious internal tensions.” But beyond the debate about what is right in our own eyes vs. what is right in the eyes of another is a song that rises from humanity when we live in attunement with our world. The debates between our personal ethical standards and those of our tradition, and between service from the heart and devotion to mitzvot and halakhah become the melody, harmony, rhythm, and texture in an ancient collective ensemble that is continually in the making. There is no right or wrong in art; there is only attunement. Great art, so triumphantly subjective, merges with a vastness ungraspable by logic. Each of us, from the first cry of being born, sings our way through existence.
— Jarah Greenfieldemail print