Learning Smallness

smallThe words of the wise are heard with pleasantness.

Ecclesiastes 9:17

The Talmud states that on Friday afternoon, a person must alert his household to prepare the necessities for Shabbos. However, he must do so in a soft voice, so that his words will be obeyed.

Many late Friday afternoons, people feel themselves under pressure while rushing to prepare for Shabbos. If one sees that some things have not yet been done, it is easy to lose composure and scream at other members of the household. The Talmud cautions against doing so and implies that shouted instructions are less likely to be carried out.

A politician who had concluded an address inadvertently left a copy of his speech on the lectern. In the margins were comments indicating manners of delivery, e.g. “gesture,” “clap hands,” “slow and emphatically,” etc. At one point he had written, “Argument awfully weak here. Scream loudly.”

If we have something of substance to say, the message will be adequately conveyed in a soft tone, because the content alone will carry it. Only when our words have little substance do we seek to make an impression by delivering them with many decibels.

Even in situations of great urgency, we have no need to lose our composure. I can attest that when life-threatening emergencies presented themselves in the hospital, greater efficiency and more rapid response ensued when everyone kept a cool head.

The words of Solomon are correct. The wise speak pleasantly, and those who shout may not be wise.

Today I shall…

…keep my voice soft and pleasant at all times, especially when I have something urgent to communicate.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 4”
Aish.com

That isn’t easy to do. A sudden surge of adrenalin as you see a small child run into traffic after a ball will make just about anyone yell, “Stop!” Of course, under that circumstance, a raised voice is perfectly understandable and justified, but most of the time when we raise our voices or otherwise try to push our weight around, it’s not.

Although we don’t generally have audible “voices” in the blogosphere, nevertheless, we tend to “yell” at each other. As Rabbi Twerski taught in the above-quoted paragraphs, human beings tend to yell the loudest when our positions are the weakest. We tend to attack others when we feel insecure about ourselves.

What should we do instead?

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Siddur: It is proper to say before prayer, I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva – “Love your fellowman as yourself.” This means that the precept of ahavat yisrael is the entry-gate through which man can pass to stand before G-d to daven. By merit of that love the worshipper’s prayer is accepted.

“Today’s Day”
Monday, Tammuz 2, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Sounds sort of like this:

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)

forgive-nudnikI’ve wasted a certain amount of time being unkind lately. I’d like to say that I’ll never make that mistake again but I probably will. It’s a mistake because what I say won’t change people unless they want to change. It’s a mistake because what I’ve said does nothing to make me a better person. It’s a mistake because what I’ve said has distanced me from people I truly love.

I struggle between leaving the others who are sometimes abrasive to walk their path and the desire to inject a word of justice into unkind conversations.

But it never works out well for me or for anyone and it is not a path to God.

What is?

Nothingness is the medium through which all energy moves, from above to below and from below to above.

Below, in the human heart, a sense of nothingness that transcends ego. Above, a Nothingness that transcends all boundaries and planes.

The nothingness below fuses with the Nothingness above, locking heaven and earth in an intimate embrace.

That is why G‑d is found amongst the truly humble.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Nothingness”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Moses was considered the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3) and yet Israel considers him their greatest prophet. Most of the “loud voices” on the Internet today (including mine) aren’t particularly concerned with humility and in fact, humility frightens them because they (we, I) consider it equivalent to being “nothing.” However as we’ve seen, nothingness is a desirable trait. So is being small, as Rabbi Freeman also teaches:

“Rebbe!” the man cried. “Nobody gives me respect! Everybody steps all over me and my opinions!”

—“And who told you to fill the entire space with yourself, so that wherever anyone steps, they step on you?”

hero-largeI think part of my desire to inject justice into other online realms is related to the sense of smallness. I experience being stepped on or seeing others step on those who I care about and I become indignant, like the person who cried out, “Rebbe! Nobody gives me respect!” I need to relearn humility as a desirable trait and as a result, learn to stop being concerned with the opinions and petty slights of others.

I mean, it’s not like I’m unaware of the humility of our Fathers or of my own experiences learning humility. If I focus on those areas where I need to improve and strive to encounter God with more dedication, I won’t have time to be concerned about the thoughts and opinions of others who seem to continually feel offended. I also may avoid offending those people I consider friends who may be hurt by what I say and do.

I suppose that at some point, maybe even fairly soon, I’ll encounter someone saying something that I object to and the temptation to respond will overwhelm my good sense. I pray that God will guard me from such a time and such individuals and most of all, guard me from my own foolishness in thinking that I must engage such people or express my own small opinion. The only thing I must do is to diminish in the Presence of God, and allow Him to overflow into the spaces I create in me.

Make yourself small and you will be great.

Know you are nothing and you will be infinite.

At the very least, don’t make such a big deal of yourself
and you will be all that much closer to the truth.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Small and Infinite”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

May God turn my heart and mind to Him alone and accustom me to seek the company of righteous people who are uplifting and inspiring. By being the lowest, sitting at the bottom of the abyss, I can only pray that He will one day raise me up to see light again.

 

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4 thoughts on “Learning Smallness”

  1. Actually, no. I saw the image on Facebook several weeks ago with the caption “be your own hero.” I liked it and found the image without the words. As you can see, I made it my avatar and I felt it fit the tone of today’s “meditation” as well.

    That, and I was a huge Superman fan back in the day.

  2. Same here. In a Smallville show clip I saw today, where Kal-El flies for the first time, his father tells him that it’s the compassion he learned in Smallville that would enable him to be “the savior” only he didn’t use those words exactly. I love how John Eldridge says about myths: that they allude to three eternal truths: Things are not what they seem. This is a world at war. Each of us has a crucial role to play. (Wild at Heart)

  3. Watching “Smallville” is one of my “guilty pleasures.” The writing for the show was horribly uneven, but it’s sometimes fun to watch the “someday Superman” develop, knowing what legend says he’ll become. Comic book heroes are the mythology of our age. They’re the heroes we wish were real, though mine are probably the 1960s versions.

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