43 Days: Dust and Ashes in My Own Universe

I am but dust and ashes.

Genesis 18:27

Everyone must say, “The world was created for my sake.”

-Sanhedrin 37a

Rabbi Bunim of Pshis’cha said that everyone should have two pockets; one to contain, “I am but dust and ashes,” and the other to contain, “The world was created for my sake.” At certain times, we must reach into one pocket; at other times, into the other. The secret of correct living comes from knowing when to reach into which.

Humility is the finest of all virtues and is the source of all admirable character traits. Yet, if a person considers himself to be utterly insignificant, he may not care about his actions. He may think, “What is so important about what I do? It makes no difference, so long as I do not harm anyone.” Such feelings of insignificance can cause immoral behavior.

When a person does not feel that his actions are significant, he either allows impulses to dominate his behavior or slouches into inactivity. At such a time, he must reach into the pocket of personal grandeur and read: “I am specially created by God. He has a mission for me, that only I can achieve. Since this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.”

When presidents and premiers delegate missions to their officials, those officials feel a profound sense of responsibility to carry out the mission in the best possible manner. How much more so when we are commissioned by God!

Today I shall…

keep in mind both the humbleness and the grandeur of the human being.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 1”

I guess that answer a query I made recently.

Is it arrogant and self-centered to believe that God has a plan for my one, small, individual life? After all, there are billions of people who live on Earth today. Untold trillions and trillions of human beings have been born, lived, and died all throughout the history of the human race. Only a tiny, tiny fraction of them have been mentioned in the Bible (or any other holy book), and of those people, we sometimes don’t know which ones we can take as literally being real humans who lived real lives, vs. some unknown scribe somewhere writing an allegory about someone named “Job” to make a moral point.

Not only is it incorrect to consider ourselves to be insignificant as individuals, it could actually be sinful. Faith and trust in God includes the belief that we are not only significant, but possibly very important since we have been commissioned to perform deeds in the plan of God.

There’s a certain amount of “mysticism” in the statement, “[s]ince this is a Divine mission, the entire universe was created solely to enable me to accomplish this particular assignment.” At least from a human point of view, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the entire universe was created just for me to do whatever God put me here to do. I suppose if we start winding down the road of some serious metaphysics, it might be seen otherwise, but I don’t think my brain can bend in that direction.

So here we are (I am) performing a balancing act, again. Running on the edge of a razor blade, trying to keep my balance and avoid being sliced to ribbons (by concepts, consciousness, or other people). Is that too dramatic? Maybe not, if I’m trying to assess and moderate equal portions of humility and being an agent on a “Divine mission.”

But that may explain our different experiences when at times, nothing seems to go right, and at others, when nothing seems to go wrong. Paul’s infamous “thorn” in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7) was what balanced him out and we know that he really did have a Divine mission (see Acts 9). We have the Bible to tell us all about the details Paul’s mission and for a Christian, it’s almost “old news.” However, for the rest of us, our particular “mission” can seem like something of a mystery.

Oh, it gets worse.

How many Christians “feel” as if they have a mission. A lot of the time, it’s to go into the ministry. We Christians sometimes get this weird idea that only Ministers can minister. But what do we do that doesn’t minister if we’re doing God’s will?

Well, right now I know why I’m doing this. I’m doing this because enough people have told me it matters to them that I do this. If that’s also the voice of God, I’m fine with that, too.

That’s how I summed up my response to the question I asked myself the other day: “Why am I doing this?”

I suppose I could just need constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but that’s no way to run a “ministry” let alone a life. There will always be times when there will be no reassurance, when it seems as if the whole world is against your (and my) Christian faith, and you (I) have to depend on whatever internal moral compass God has provided to continue the journey so that we are (I am) walking in the right direction.

Not that the right direction is always easy.

In 2008, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were among 200 people killed when terrorists attacked Mumbai, India. The Holtzbergs selflessly ran the Chabad house, a beacon of hope and kindness in a city filled with poverty and despair.

Day in Jewish History: Kislev 1

Most of us won’t have to face death in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to face the death of loved ones in the service of God. Most of us won’t have to raise grandchildren because our children died in the service of God.

But it does give you pause. I mean, there’s no promise intrinsic to our faith and trust that limits how much God will ask of you (or me). Especially in the western nations, people of faith aren’t used to working really, really hard in the service of God, at least not most of the time. Sure, we may go on the occasional mission trip to a “third world country” and for a week or two, live in conditions that are a far cry from our comfortable homes in our middle-class suburbs.

But as you may have noticed recently, just being a Jew and living in or visiting Israel can be very dangerous. One of the horrible ironies of this latest terrorist attack was this:

The names of the three people who were killed Thursday by a rocket attack in Kiryat Malachi have been published, and one of whom, it was just discovered, was an emissary of Chabad involved in outreach in India, and was in Israel on a short visit in order to give birth and pay respects to the Chabad victims of the Mumbai terror attack in 2008.

Mirah (nee Cohen) Scharf, the 26-year-old victim of today’s attack, was a “shlucha (female emissary)” to New Dehli, India, visiting Israel for the memorial service of Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad emissaries who were victims of the Mumbai terror attack. The Hebrew anniversary of their brutal murder is today.

-Annie Lubin
“Mirah Scharf, Killed by Missile, Laid to Rest”

God, please be merciful to the injured and dying of your people Israel. Be merciful to those who live in harm’s way. Be merciful to the children who wake up every morning wondering if today they will be killed, and go to sleep each night fearing that they will be murdered in their sleep.

There were periods of time when R. Yekusiel Liepler, a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, davened Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv one right after the other; there was no time for intervals.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Kislev 1, Rosh Chodesh, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Compared to that, the uncertainty in attending a local church and sometimes being criticized for it doesn’t seem so intimidating.

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

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