Friday, 27 June 2008

How Can We Change the World? – By Starting with Ourselves!

This article is dedicated to the merit of Tinuk ben Rinasi Tova Chanah Trina for a
Refuat HaNefesh and Refuat HaGuf

There is a beautiful story of someone who was investigating converting to Judaism. He went to speak to the great Sage Hillel and asked to be taught the whole Torah while standing on one foot.

Hillel's response was "all that is hateful unto you, don't do unto others, the rest is commentary go and study." This is a famous teaching and one that always intrigued me. After all, why state it in the negative. Why did Hillel not find a way to word it with only positive words saying perhaps:
"everything that is pleasing to you, do unto your fellow"

Let us look at another teaching to help us to put this into perspective and to realise the Torah response to life.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything that occurs in life and in this world is directed by G-d at every moment. For this reason, if you happen to encounter someone, that meeting was co-ordinated by G-d for your benefit. So we might ask, what benefit is it for me if I meet someone who behaves badly, or if my neighbour plays music so loud that I can not concentrate. Whatever happens, is for our ultimate good. But, we may ask, how can this be?

So we look again at what Hillel taught and this reminds us of another important law from the Torah. This being that we are only permitted to rebuke our fellow Jew if we know that they will be able to receive the feedback and use it for the good. Further our rebuke has to be given from a place of love. That means not with anger or frustration or disgust.

How then are we to live in a world where many experiences upset us? How are we to internalise that these very experiences are for our good.

Let us look at a scenario to illustrate this. On a particular day, Reuven is out and about and happen to see someone throwing garbage on the floor and that upsets him. If Reuven has the skills to explain or teach the person to throw his/her garbage in a refuse bin, then he is not only permitted to do so but expected to as all Jews are responsible for one another. If however, by trying to explain the correct path, Reuven will only gain an enemy, so Hillel teaches, "all that is hateful unto you, do not do unto others" As we already see, in order to understand what this means, we have already had to look at two other concepts from the Torah. We know too that it is impossible to predict a person’s reaction but we can know how we will present it. We can know whether we are able to explain something with soft, kind words or out of anger and negativity.

So in his wisdom, Hillel continued to state that the rest is commentary or rather explanation of how to put this into practise and our task is to learn the Torah with a view to how to do change our focus so that we do not do anything to another that will be upsetting if done to us.

What then do we do? If we are concerned not to create an enemy, the response is to daven to Hashem to help the person. In addition to this to make sure that we take responsibility to always put our own garbage in the refuse bin so as not to upset another. So that you are taking care to respect the beautiful environment and so as to prevent anyone slipping or hurting themselves from our garbage. The reasons as to why we do this are again taught in the Torah.

A beautiful exercise is given from Life Skills training. Take a piece of paper and draw 4 concentric circles. Now you have 4 steps to follow, moving from the centre outwards:

1) In the middle write yourself. You can put your name or write the word me.

2) In the next circle out, write the names of your closest loved ones. Parents, siblings, spouse, those closest to you.

3) In the next circle write your friends and those relatives not quite as close to you. You can also put any possessions, pets etc that are meaningful to you in this circle.

4) In the last one put those people who have an impact on your life but you do not really know personally. Also place those items that are not as meaningful to you but are part of your life.

Now look again at this diagram. If you want a perfect world, where do you begin to make a change?

The Torah teaches us and modern techniques in personal development agrees that the most effective method and the way that uses the least energy is to begin in the centre and from there, G-d willing there will be a positive ripple effect to all your encounters.

Hillel in his wisdom knew that this is the way to make the most impact in the world and hence he worded his response exactly as he did. With every situation, experience and encounter, take a step back and consider what you can learn from it. What are the positive parts and what do you not enjoy. Says Hillel, anything you do not enjoy, use that to recognise the teaching coming to you directly from Hashem. Since everything is directed by Hashem, He is guiding you as to how or where to work on yourself.

In our example, what Reuven did not like was seeing another throwing his/her garbage on the floor. Perhaps Reuven is very good about always throw your garbage in a refuse bin. He can look at whether perhaps there is another way in which he is littering his home or environment? Is there anyway in which he can take more care to clean up your environment. Does he need to organise your area or space? If he is still not sure what to do or how this applies to you, says Hillel, the place to look is in the Torah. So go and study all the sections relevant to what you encountered and through this, allow Hashem to open your eyes to how to be more sensitive to others. More sensitive to the world we live in and our impact on and in it. More sensitive to what Hashem wants of us.

In this way, may you create a vessel to receive Hashems blessings. Since part of Hashems blessing is light, may you become a true “Light unto the Nations”. An example of how to behave correctly in the beautiful world that G-d created

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