Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Duality of Being Human: 2 Pieces of Paper

A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust, at risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, like withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a drifting cloud, a fleeting breath, scattering dust, a transient dream.”(UneTaneh Tokef)

A friend of mine sent me an email last week complaining about Shul on Rosh Hashanah. Yet it wasn’t the length of the prayers (my initial assumption) rather than their content which produced his ire; “they are just so grovelly and pathetic…you’re so big, we’re so small…how many times can we say we’re insignificant?”

Joking (or complaining) aside, I actually think that the Rosh Hashanah prayers touch on an issue at the heart of being human – the duality between being powerful and creative on the one hand, and being weak and vulnerable on the other.

Similar to Rav Soloveitchik’s description of the creation of man in his Lonely Man of Faith, being human involves living in tension.

Humans really are majestic being. Created in God’s image, we build skyscrapers and bridges. We send people into space. We develop technology at exponential rates.

Yet at the same time there remain so many things out of our control. We’re lonely and vulnerable. Our lives can be snuffed out in a second, often in the most random and meaningless ways. We live within Milan Kundrea’s Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Rav Simcha Bunim used to exclaim that each person should walk around with two pieces of paper in their pocket.

One that says ‘the world was created just for me’.

The other which reads ‘I am but dust and ashes’

Its not surprising we prefer to flee from such duality. No one enjoys contemplating their own vulnerability.

But I wonder if for ten days a year, during the days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur its time to focus on the second piece of paper, the one that we prefer not to read, the one that reminds us of our own mortality…

Because living genuine lives demands nothing less

Original from Lech-lecha.com

1 comment:

Dan - Israeli Uncensored News said...

The Gur Rebbe asked, why the law was given on a small mountain if God wanted the Jews to be humble? Why not give it on the plain? The lesson is, to be humble, but not too humble.