Sinai Synagogue, Shabbat AM, October 10, 2015
When I was at a rabbinic conference years ago, I had to choose one fault and introduce ourselves by that trait. I don’t remember what the point of the exercise was but I remember that I chose out of the myriad of faults I could have chosen: “Hi I’m try to do everything by myself”. Delegation is a real skill. But trying to do everything by yourself has a darker psychological element to it. It harbors the belief that we alone are needed to accomplish whatever it is that is needed. We are singular. Irreplaceable. In Ernst Becker’s book Denial of Death he has a chapter on Kierkegaard. He believes he both predated Freud in the realm of psychology and corrected many of Freud’s flaws. Kierkegaard understood that the source of human’s psychological neuroses was not sexual but existential. Man’s fear of death. And specifically this begins when one is a baby. The child is the center of the world; everything is done for him. He is the God before whom nothing exists unless he calls it into being. But slowly the child recognizes that while his imagination may be infinite, he is limited. He is one among many. In Becker’s words, he is the God who defecates. It is living in the balance between omniscience and infinity and limitation and finiteness, that psychological neuroses begin. Everything that we do, everything that we create, everything that we know will end with the death of our consciousness. Even creating something that will last beyond our time on earth is no consolation because we, the centers of our universes, will not be a part of it. Kierkegaard being a theologian finds a solution in the belief in a transcendent God. There can be no salvation for limited beings in a world of limitations, thus there must be something beyond this world to which one must attach oneself spiritually. That connection to what is truly infinite and unlimited, allows those of us in the created world to find solace, immortality and finally an acquired tranquility. And though Kierkegaard was not a Jew, this recognition that we find solace and immortality of a sort through our connection to the transcendent Creator of the universe is a very Jewish response to our mortality. But there is another Jewish response to our limited humanness and that is the responsibility to serve and to assist God in making the world a more holy place. By participating in the creation or process of tikkun olam, of repairing the world, we fulfill a role that transcends our finite and short lived abilities. A teaching by the Imrei Noam, Rabbi Meir Horowitz of Dzikov, finds this lesson on the very first word in the Torah. Why is the first letter in Torah a bet and not an aleph? In the midrashic collection known as the Tanchuma, we learn it is because Aleph starts the word Arur, curse, whereas Bet starts the word Bracha. From there the Imrei Noam explains: True Aleph is the first letter, it is number 1. But it also symbolizes aloneness and egoism. As if, “I and no one else”. The letter bet is the number two and that is the number of a couple and symbolizes communications, fellowship and unity with others. Egoism is the great curse of the world. The world could not exist with it alone. In apposition to aleph is the letter bet which represents love for fellowship and concern for the other. This is a blessing for all. At the beginning of creation, God imposed the feeling of responsibility for the whole and compassion and love for the other.” And of course this is God’s intention in creating a partner for Adam. It is “not good for Man to be alone” – lo tov heiyot adam lvado. Immediately the first human person is thrust into a relationship with another in order to learn to care and love. Sometimes working with others leads to problems – Eve shares the forbidden fruit with Adam. But alone could they have survived expulsion? Rabbi Jack Reimer points out that even when Cain commits his heinous crime, he is redeemed. His defense relies on two arguments: One, I did not know what murder was. And two, after taking his punishment he does two things – he builds a city and names it after his son. His redemption comes from creating a society that is beneficial to others and expresses a concern for the future – by naming his city after his son. This is what we think of when we think of our dear and beloved friend Mary Ann who passed away too early – she was the example par excellence of a person who lived to serve others and considered the needs of others even before herself. There is a Hebrew saying that “Kol adam k’ot ehad b’alef bet. Rak bekhibaro ehad l’sheni nivneh milah.” Every person is a letter in the alef-bet. But only when they join one to another can they create a word. Only in loving and showing concern for others can we create and be partners with God in creating the world that should be. The Jewish response to the normal psychological neuroses that all humans live with is both to connect with that which is truly transcendent, God. But also to link ourselves to other finite human beings through the role of serving the needs of creation. If we can live lives that do these two things, we shall find our way to tranquility and a life of sanctity.