"No two people think or act alike. No two viewpoints or opinions are exactly the same. Because of this, each additional person born into the world automatically introduces another unique perspective on things. He also automatically introduces yet another degree of falsehood to the world if for no other reason than his very existence is itself a contribution to this world of 'the many'.” Mayim
Rebbe Nachman says that the moment Hashem brought creation into existence, multiplicity was introduced and we created beings experience separateness from Hashem’s Oneness. The consequence of this is free will, through which we are given the opportunity to either see creation as completely independent of Hashem or look through the curtain of the natural order and see His hashgacha, His intimate management and involvement in our lives and align ourselves with His Oneness and absolute truth through the Torah.
Do you realise we’ve been friends for 28 years? Really,Yael? You know you’re right, and we’ve never had a cross word, Hadassah said. Exactly half an hour later our 28 year record came to an abrupt end! The conversation started innocently enough. Hadassah is about to be a newly qualified psychotherapist. I’m very proud of my friend, I’m proud of her tenacity and resilience in weathering and coming through a severe personal trial and her determination to change career and dedicate her life to helping others.
At some point she was telling me about an essay she had to write about group therapy versus one-on-one therapy and which might be more effective. She mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous, and I mentioned something about them having a spiritual overview. She was obviously quite interested that I had heard this. I think it’s a cult, she said out of the blue. Really, I couldn’t say, I don’t know that much about them other than they seem to have a good track record. I think she said something about AA suppressing the client’s personality. I was going to ask why she thought that but the next thing I knew she was asking if I thought my personality was being suppressed because I was religious. Whaaat? No, I definitely do not! I said. Well actually, if I’m honest, I almost spat the words out. You don’t have to be defensive, Hadassah responded, I’m just trying to understand. Well, it doesn’t sound like it, it felt like an attack. Yael, you know I respect you. Patronising, I thought. Cool it, Yael, I told myself. Just respond to the question. Well, actually, I said, we believe we need both, the group and the individual and the individual finds their purpose and meaning through being part of something bigger. What do you mean by “we”, Hadassah responded, I mean, what do you think, Yael? I don’t believe this, I thought. I mean “we” as in the Jewish people, you know, being Jewish. And actually, Hadassah, I don’t want to talk to a psychotherapist right now, if it’s all the same to you. I’m sorry, she said, if I’m honest I’ve just got this essay on my mind and, yes, I was “interviewing you”. But you know, I do believe in a guiding force; I admit, though, I don’t know anything about Judaism.
Everything has gone back to normal since that interchange but it bothered me for a few weeks. If I’m really honest, I was angry with her. I was irritated that after 28 years of friendship, 23 of which I had been pursuing a more spiritual path, she had never asked me anything about Judaism but she chose this moment to express some interest; in fact it wasn’t even interest, it seemed to me that she just wanted to find something negative in being part of a “religious group”, something to pull apart because she had a preconceived idea.
In retrospect, though, from her perspective, she really was just trying to understand how groups can work both beneficially and negatively. And in truth people can exert undue influence and cause damage, both in a group setting and one to one. But the converse is also true and I wanted her to see the positive aspects. She also wasn’t able to grasp that service of Hashem entails attachment to the klal, and how important that was and that was why we and I are sometimes synonymous and sometimes separate. But why did I expect her to understand? She herself said she didn’t know anything. She was just under pressure to produce an essay for her accreditation and that was what was forming her world view at that moment. And as for me, because I’m trying to see everything through a Torah lens now maybe I came across to her as though I didn’t have a view of my own.
And there was another thing - a small voice in the background, I just couldn’t make out what it was saying.
Keren is one of my childhood friends, one that stayed the test of time. She’s a beautiful person both inside and out. She very Jewishly connected to her community and loves learning Torah. She’s also a fantastic mother. All her three children have had personal hurdles to overcome and through her total dedication to their wellbeing are, baruch Hashem, doing more than really well. Last summer was a good summer for her youngest son so he went on a tour to Israel. Due to his medical condition, Keren told me she had been tempted to take control of his schedule so she could monitor his movements. Because she’s the person she is though, she decided to give her teenage son some space and independence, and her oldest son took charge of the itinerary. Her son went to Israel. In the meantime, Keren had an Israeli friend who asked her to come and spend a few days in Israel with her. Keren went without knowing which part of Israel her son was. Her Israeli friend, who had become quite religious, asked Keren if she would like to go to Tsfat and visit the gravesites of some tzadikim. Keren said yes. I have to admit when she told me this I couldn’t quite imagine that this was something Keren would really have chosen to do! So they drove up to Tsfat. Keren told me that as they were driving into the car park they saw some coaches with the name of her son’s group. She said they just couldn’t believe it. She went up to the madrech and asked if her son was with the group. He said yes, he’s just up the hill having a coffee with the group. So my friend walked up to the coffee shop where to her son’s total astonishment and, unsurprisingly, slight dismay he saw, of all people, his mother, with tears in her eyes, approaching him. Mum, he whispered, now isn’t the time to cry! She told me they never went to the gravesites but had a great day with her son and his friends.
After she related this to me, I was absolutely blown away. I could see Hashem’s hand all over this, it was so obvious. Keren also thought it was absolutely incredible too. So incredible that she said, Yael, wasn’t that an amazing… coincidence? Ohh. My heart sank. What could I say? Well, Keren, I ventured, don’t you think maybe Hashem organised for you to see your son? She looked at me. I couldn’t make out her expression. I couldn’t make out what was going through her mind. And then the moment passed. I felt a bit frustrated.
That voice is still there, a little louder this time.
I can hear the words of the voice now. Whose inner voice is this? Surely, not mine. But sadly, yes it is mine. My thoughts, my truth, my world view. Am I trying to align myself to the absolute truth, to the Torah, to Hashem? Yes I am. But I’m starting to get in my own way. My yetzer hara has found a new strategy. A little bit of arrogance in my own paltry understanding of Torah. My ego is shouting at my friends, what’s the matter with you guys? Don’t you get it? It’s sooooh obvious. Isn’t it? Well, actually, no it isn’t. Because we are all miniature worlds.