Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hiding behind "us"

I’d like to elaborate on one point from my 2 postcards post.

Roughly 100 years ago an English scientist named Francis Galton was walking through a country fair.
As he walked through the exhibition that day, Galton came across a weight-judging competition. A fat ox hade been selected and placed on display, and members of a agathering crowd were lining up to place wagers on the weight of the ox. (Or rather, they were placing wagers on what the weight of the ox would be after it had been slaughtered and dresssed.) For sixpence, you could buy a stamped and numbered ticket, where you filled in your name and your estimate. The best guesses would receive prizes.
Eight hundred people tried their luck. They were diverse people. Many of them were butchers and farmers, who were presumably expert at judging the weight of livestock, but there were also quite a few people who had, as it were, no insider knowledge of cattle.
The closest estimate was way off but Galton was curious about something and so he asked the owner if he can have the the 800 filled out paper stubs and took them home to do some calculating. He was astonished to see that the average number of all 800 guesses was 1,197 pounds while the actual weight was 1,198!
To him it proved the strength of the wisdom of the crowd and countless books have been written on this subject since.

Whenever I hear the..”but look at all the chessed we do..” argument to counter a scandalous story in our community I’m reminded of this theory. That somehow we take comfort in the fact that as a group we somehow get it right. Its the “I” hiding behind the “us”.

Theres no question that there has always been a strong sense of communal and plural identity in Judaism. After all what other group has a concept of “areivim zeh lo’zeh”? We are all responsible for one another. That’s a fact.
But I sometimes feel that we’re sacrificing too much in the name if communal identity.
Chazal also tell us that we are obliged to think Beshivili Nivra Haolam..the world was created for me. So there is the need for a self centered world outlook as well. Difficult times in our history have forced us more to the instinctive huddle together posture but I think it comes at a heavy price.
It strips away the incredibly powerful personal relationship between man and Hashem.
It makes us curious about other peoples levels of frumkeit to the point of obsession.
If we see view our relationship with Hashem from a community viewpoint, then naturally when one sees hypocricy and bad behavior it weakens our own level of devotion often to the degree of causing one to drop out entirely. Which is absurd if you think about it.
When was the last time you heard an American say, “you know there are so many American rapists and murderers I’m opting out of the system..”? No one says that, because everyone is involved in their own pursuit of freedom, opportunity and the American dream regardless of what anyone else does.
Our culture needs to shift from “we” to “I”. It has to shift across the boards. The lyrics in our songs should be “Hashem I love you...” not “Hashem We love you..”. The goal should be personal Geulah which is solely in our hands and not mass Geulah (which we naturally have to daven for) which I find to be a bit of a cop out from our job at hand. The comfort of being part of an assembly line takes away from the feeling of being Hashems one and only child.

I’ll take this idea a step further...

The following paragraph sounds wild but it’s actually from the Sefer “Leshem Shevo VeAchlama” written by the Kabbalist Rav Shlomo Elyashiv.
The true essence of Hashem is impossible to comprehend nor approach.
Hashem is how we perceive him. Hashem is what he has chosen to reveal to us.
Through his attributes and actions. In other words Hashem for all practical purposes is what we perceive of him.
Each person perceives Hashem differently. Everyone is at their own level of understanding.
Therefore it can be said that every person has his or her own individual Hashem in a very real sense. He continues by saying that when someone prays and is not in touch with Hashem..does not relate to Hashem, is thinking about a an abstract idea of Hashem he is engaging in a form of idol worship.
That is not YOUR God.
Someone that mimics a person on a higher level than he is worshiping another God. Not the same God but with a different understand..but an entirely other God.

Now. Bear with me...
The world is a top down world. Everything emanates from and exists in Hashem. (see this post)
If everyone has their own personal Hashem then it must be that everyone has their own personal world.
The world as we know it is in essence billions of worlds overlapping. Just like on a computer network. Everyone exists on the same network and can communicate on any screen within the network each person still works on their own screen and exists in the network on their own personal computer.

So Beshvili Nivra Haolam is not some abstract Aggada but a very real reality.

It’s me and Hashem ...he is my world I am his world.

Everyone else? They’re just extras..props. Just like on a movie set theres the main actor and all the extras that surround him to support him (or in real life challenge him).
So who cares if all your extras are fakers and hypocrites? They're just there as your supporting cast!
If this is the case then the mitzvah of Judging people favorably takes on a new urgency. When you judge someone you are defining that person in your world!
Not only that but the way you judge others is how God sets the bar for your world when it comes time to reward or punish you.
If children are taught a more personal, responsible relationship with Hashem I think it will naturally illiminate many problems that are an offshoot of our uber-communalism.




Anonymous Anony said...

I wish I had your faith.


March 18, 2009 3:17 PM  
Blogger corner point said...

This is *fantastic*...

Thank you for this perspective....gonna have to think about it...

March 19, 2009 1:13 AM  
Blogger The Dreamer said...

Gotta have time to digest this...

March 19, 2009 11:27 AM  
Blogger dini said...

THIS is my most favorite post of yours ever.

Here's a story I heard recently:

It was of a little girl sitting in back of the class, and the teacher said that this little girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson she did. And the teacher was fascinated and went over to her and she said "What are you drawing?" . And the girl said
"I'm drawing a picture of G-d". And the teacher said
"But nobody knows what G-d looks like"
..And the girl said
"They will in a minute."


I repeated this story to my therapist who said something similar to what you described above - that everyone has a very personal description and association with G-d...

Thanks again for the wonderful post.(In fact, I think just calling it a 'post' undermines it!)

March 22, 2009 6:00 AM  

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