Do you have different versions of yourself? I know I do. My favorite is the one where I’m sitting at my Shabbos table with guests all around me who are totally different in background and attitude toward Judaism. Somehow, over the roasted chicken or salad we unify into a group that makes sense- all the while sparring about different ideas (we are Jews after all). That Friday night ambiance is unbeatable. The house is filled with yummy smells and is immaculate. The kids are angelically sleeping upstairs. I’m in my element having facilitated a situation where all these random people are enjoying Shabbos and I feel as connected and alive as ever. My husband is not too tired yet (he’s been known to doze at the table or to mysteriously appear on the couch asleep). I myself am pretty tired having spent a good portion of Thursday night cooking for said Shabbos meal but this experience is too divine to miss. The guests leave having made a new friend or two or- minimally-with a full belly and meaningful memories.
It’s interesting that this is my go-to image. I love my children more than anything but let’s face it, they’re practically persona non grata in the scenario I just created. I picture other “favorite versions” of myself that are maternal like the one where I’m discussing philosophical matters with my 5 year old son. Another is smushing his little brother’s cheeks (Maternal or Sadistic? hmm…). Anyhow, In these images, I’m smiling and blessed too. Still, there’s something very special about those Friday nights. My guests assume I did them a favor inviting them to share a meal but the reality is they were helping me bring my favorite self into fruition.
Judaism posits that true and absolute happiness comes from our closeness with Hashem (God) and by closeness I mean similarity. In all my images of “favorite versions” where I’m feeling my happiest – whether it be the role of a hostess, parent, or giver in any capacity- something deeper is at play. I’m feeling spiritual. I’m feeling connected to something Higher. I’m feeling Godly. (Side-note: This is why I am not a fan of The Giving Tree by Shel Silversein which probably means you hate me now but here’s why: A tree that spends its life as a giver should look big and beautiful with tons of fruit growing- an orchard even- by the end. But a stump?? Who wants to give if giving means we’re left with next to nothing? Giving should create expansion!) On the flip side of giving, I loathe asking for favors or being in a vulnerable position for this very reason. If I am not giving, I don’t feel happy; I don’t feel powerful; I am not impacting for the better.
One way a Jewish person is supposed to view tzedakah (charity) is that the purpose of poverty is to create opportunity to give. But, where does that leave poor people? Poor, poor people. Come to think of it, we’re all poor in one way or another. Some are searching for financial security, some for a spouse, some struggling to have children, others wishing for happiness, connection, and meaning. The list is endless and I have yet to find someone who couldn’t identify an impoverished area of life. Step up if your life is perfect but careful, it’s ghost town for miles.
So why DOES Hashem want this vulnerability in us? Why does He want us dependent? Is this a punishment? Are we all punished? Judaism teaches us that there’s a reason. This area of emptiness/damage is our life boat. We are otherwise drowning in good fortune. Perhaps it’s counter-intuitive but if I’m sitting at the head of my table, serving dinner, I’m feeling Godly (like I wrote above). The problem with feelings of Godliness is that they need to be tempered lest we have delusions of grandeur. It would be a recipe for a very miserable life if I walked around feeling like God constantly. Talk about fear of failure and unrealistic expectations! Talk about isolation and haughtiness! Humility is one of the most difficult traits to acquire and there is no better way to experience humility than being forced to acknowledge our weaknesses, voids, and obstacles. May our strides toward humility be paved with plenty sweet and happy blessings.