Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone

Selective memory…I don’t think I have it, but when I look back on my time here in Anytown, USA, I can’t remember anything negative. Even the times that had the potential to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth seem to make me laugh. Perhaps this is because I know that each step I took here was part of the universal narrative, and all of the experiences I had were needed to nourish my soul so that it might complete its unique task. It’s in looking back that we are most able to see the goodness of what we experienced. While going through things, we tend to fail to see the “big picture”, concentrating on our fears and discomfort. The end, though, is where we usually discover the hidden meaning.

Maybe it’s just the nature of humans not to be able to see what’s really going on until it passes. Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) seems to have been a victim of his physicality in this sense. When Moshe asks G-d to see His “way, that I may know You,” G-d said that He would cause His “goodness” to pass before Moshe, but alas, G-d states that man cannot see His face and live. By allowing Moshe to see the “goodness” of G-d, the Rambam writes that G-d showed Moshe the entirety of creation: the interactions of all creatures and environments, and the purpose of each organism in the whole scheme of the universe. This, according to the Rambam, is gathered from the creation story, where G-d sees all that was created, and calls it “good”. This is the way to perceive G-d, by seeing the fullness and awesomeness of creation. By looking back at what G-d has done, we are given a greater glimpse at the Creator.

To see this goodness, one need not look far. Rabbi Eliezer the Great once commented that G-d created the universe by stretching the cloth of His garment across the expansive emptiness. While clearly not literal in a way that we can understand, the imagery of this statement brings a greater appreciation of the “goodness” of creation, as being part of the garment that clothes the Ein Sof (endless presence of G-d).

Undoubtedly, we have all commented at the end of a party or some other event, “Wow, I had such a great time,” but how often do we stop in the middle to remind ourselves and those around us, “What we’re doing right now is really great”? Perhaps it is something beyond our control; gashmius (physicality) blocks us, and we cannot see past the moment. In fact, the kabbalist Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”l said that this is the pain and confusion associated with the soul leaving the body. When we are removed from our physicality, we are more clearly able to see the big picture as knowledge is flowing all around our souls. For those souls of people who did actions (sins) which drew their souls further from this knowledge, they have more difficulty and “pain” doing this, and the hardship of this transition purges their soul until it is able to handle a greater union with its Essence.

Reb Menachem Mendl, the great Kotzker rebbe zt”l, held the belief that our physicality hampers our ability to sense and understand the Divine, and this is why we can only begin to understand things once we move past them. As I come to the last few days of my time in Anytown, I can look back and see how my life has brought me to this point. My hindsight gives me an immense appreciation and sense of yiras shamayim (awe of Heaven). Everything has imparted invaluable wisdom and understanding, and the benefit has been huge. Now I get to continue to go where the current takes me, floating on to the next stage where a new task awaits, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be a little more aware of the holiness as it happens.

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