Actually, You Really Are the Center of the World – Why We’re All Different and Why We All Count –

Posted By on February 4, 2020

Your mother told you so many times. Your highschool principal didnt seem so convinced. Certainly not your employer.

But its true. And even more: You are not justthe center of the worldyou are the entire world.

Its an explicit Mishnah:

Every human being isunique, and every human being is a copy of the prototype human being(Adam)therefore, every human being must say, For my sake the world wascreated.

As for humility, well, yes, humility is whatmakes you a nice guy, but it can also be totally out of place.

As the Baal Shem Tov taught, humility in thewrong place can subvert a persons purpose in life. Humility in the right place means knowing youre no morespecial than anyone else (well get to that later) and therefore you shouldntlord yourself over others. Humility in the wrongplace means imagining youre not special at all. And so the world can get by justas well without you.

Youve got to know, the Baal Shem Tov, wouldsay (okay, Im paraphrasing just a little), that everything depends on you.That with every beautiful mitzvah you do the universe resonates in blissfulharmony that heals and nurtures, and if you mess up, the whole cosmic symphonyfalls apart in a cacophonous crash, taking down myriads of the heavenly host inits wake.

Because if you act with misplaced humility,saying, Who am I, this lowly meat-patty with eyeballs, that anything I doshould have significance in the cosmic scheme of things? Who am I, that theCreator of this infinitely-sized operation should take notice of my deeds?soyoull just go off and do whatever you feel like, bringing your entire worlddown with you.

But when you are aware of that the Master ofthe Universe kisses your lips with every word of Torah or prayer that you utter[yes, the Baal Shem Tov actually put it that way, based on Solomons Song of Songs 1:2,and more], then you will say each word just as it should be said, with love andwith awe. And when you truly believe that with each mitzvah you are in embracewith the Infinite Light Himself, then your entire day will be filled withbeautiful deeds that shine.

As for misplaced humility, the Baal Shem Tovwould conclude, on that, the Talmud tells us, The humility of Rabbi Zechariaben Avkilus destroyed the Holy Temple and exiled us from our land.

But wait, if youre the center of the world,how about me? Im also unique and special, right? We cant both be the center,can we?

Well, maybe we can. Maybe human beings are notcounted in an arithmetical way, where one plus one equals two, until theaccumulated eight billion of us renders each individual a virtual nobody,vanished in the crowd. Maybe human beings are counted differently.

So heres the Chabad take on counting humans,on our equality, on our magnificent diversity and on the immeasurablepreciousness of each and every one of us. So that each human being is theentire world.

Humans are the fundamental unit of humankind.When dealing with fundamental units, Wall Street has dollars, physicists haveatoms, Gottfried Leibniz had the monad, and Chabad talks about the etzem.

The etzemcan be found anywhere, in anything; it is a oneness, whole and complete,lying at the essence of each thing. Whats especially neat about the etzem, is, as the Baal Shem Tov was fondof saying, When you hold a part of the etzem,you hold all of it.

Think of shares in a corporation. When youhold one share, it doesnt mean you own one square foot in the corporatewashroom. Each share is a share in the entire company, every part of it.So, too, wherever the etzem turns up in a detail, there you have one share ofthe entire etzem.

Take mitzvahs. Mitzvahsare the fundamental unit of purpose. All the mitzvahs of the Torah represent asingle etzem: Gds purpose for yourworld. Each individual mitzvah holds a share of that etzem. Thats why, if youre occupied with one mitzvah, youre offthe hook for every other mitzvah.

For example, youre attending to someone whois not well. Thats a mitzvah. Lets say another mitzvah pops up, such ascelebrating a friends wedding, praying with the congregation in the synagogue,eating in a Sukkah on Sukkot, or calling your Mom. So you ask your localhalachic authority what to do, and you get a clear answer: Stick to the mitzvahyou are doing right now.(Calling mom might be an exception, since no one can replace you for that.)

Why? Because, at their etzem, all the mitzvahs are the same one actdoing that which Gdwants of you. And so, in doing this onemitzvah, you are doing all the mitzvahs of the Torah.

An etzem,then, is something like the life within a living organism. Whatsthe difference between a living squirrel and the roadkill someone accidentallyran over in the mad rush to work this morning? Both have the same limbs andorgans in the same structure and form. But the living squirrel is a singlebeing, while the dead carcass is a collection of parts in a single encasement.The living animal is united by a single, shared etzem, which the carcass has lost.

Like you. You are a living organism. Whether Igrab you by your hand, your earlobe or your toenail, Ive grabbed all of you.Because within each part of you is the same etzemthesame you. Your toe is no less you than your earlobe.

Within every year, every day, every moment oftime, there is an etzem.If I could know what this moment is all about, whats it purpose, what Immeant to do with it, I would have its etzem.

And that etzemcontains all of time: Just as the reflection of the same sun appears in theocean, in a pond, or a puddle, or a raindrop, so in the etzem of every year, every day, and every moment of time appearsall of time, every second of it, all at once.

Thats because all of time is itself a single etzem. And like I said, you dont get a piece of the etzem, you get a share ofit. With every tick of the clock life deals out to you, youve got one share inall of time.

A hologram might be a good metaphor. Ahologram presents a three-dimensional image because its made of many cells,each presenting the same image from a different angle. You can cut a hologramin two and now youll have two complete holograms of the same 3D object. Cut itagain and youll have more.

Perhaps a better metaphor is a fractal. Afractal is an image of endless depth generated by a single mathematicalformula. Each level of depth of the fractal is simply another articulation ofthe same formula.

Its important to note is that we are nottalking about being a vital part of a wholelike a player on a team. Yes, if Isteal one guy from your minyan, Ive dissolved the entire minyan. So too, awinning team depends on the individuals who are part of itthe team cant doits thing unless each one does his or her part.

Thats only true, however, as the individualis part of the wholeas a player on the team. But when I have any one playerall by himself, I dont have the whole teamI have only that one individual. Inthe share-of-the-etzem paradigm, eachindividual contains the entire whole independently. Each one is the wholeeach in a different andunique way.

Take the universe. The universe is also asingle etzem, and all its details areshares of that etzem. If you could find the etzem of each entity in the universe, you would find that itcontains the entire universe.

What is the etzem of each entity? Its purpose for which it was createdthatwhich we often call the divine spark within. Eachentity of the universe expresses the purpose of the entire universe in adifferent way.

Its just that within a single entity, thatpurpose cannot be seen so clearly. Sometimes it can seem as though there is nopurpose, just haphazard stuff that happens. When we see the biggerpicturethe accumulation of all this stuff happeningthen the purpose becomesclearer.

Which is yet another thing about the etzem: It is always there, and nothingcan hide itbecause it is the essence of each thing. What the etzem can do, however, is to camouflageitself, sort of hiding in plain sight, by expressing itself as a detail, ratherthan as a whole. What are those details? All the details that render a singularuniverse a plethora of endless beings.

The ultimate, only true etzem is Gd Himself. Gd is the perfect oneness, both encompassingall existence and not dependent on any existence. And, indeed, the truth ofevery other etzem you will find inthis universe is nothing other than Gd Himself.

Yet the fullest, most exquisite representationof that etzem in our world is theindividual human being. Within each of us lies the fundamental unit of freedomwithin the universethe freedom to go blindly our own way and make ourselveseach one his or her own god, or to fulfill the purpose for which we were createdand bring harmony and perfection to our world.

Thats what the creation story in Genesismeans when it says that the human being was created in the image of Gd. Theindividual human being, with his or freedom to make or break his universe, is theultimate fractal of Gd.

Take a look again in that creation narrativeof Genesis and youll notice how the emergence of all living things isdescribed as creation en massefieldsof grasses, forests of trees, schools of fish, herds and families of beasts.Only the human being is created as an individual.

Why was the human being created as anindividual? ask the rabbis of the Talmud. To teach you that one who destroysa single human life is as though he has destroyed an entire world. And one whosaves a single human life is as though he has saved an entire world.

Thats not just a figurative hyperbole. The Talmud provides a vivid, practical application of thisprinciple:

A caravan of peopleis traveling on the road is accosted by strangers who tell them, Give us oneof you and we will kill him, and if you refuse, we will kill all of you.

Even if all of themwill be killed, they cannot hand over a single soul.

The ruling is stunning. And yet, within itlies the fundamental rejection of totalitarian fascism and communism that has become an essential building-blockof post-WWII modernity.The individual is sacred. Nothing, not the good of the state, not even thelives of the majority, can override the sanctity of the individual.

It also reflects the intuitive experience ofthe human being. The human being, as he or she becomes aware of his or her ownexistence, experiences something bewildering, even shocking. There are billionsof theys, yous, hes and shes out there, but only one I.

How could that be? Only because the individualhuman being experiences life as an exquisite fractal of the very etzem of Gdthe true I.

Now youre going to ask, If all individualhuman beings share an equal spark of divinity and represent the same one Gd inHis universe, why are they not all the same? If theres one Gd, shouldntthere be one human being?

And thats an observation the Talmud notes ina terse, deep metaphor, A human being stamps many coins with one stamp andthey all come out the same. The Holy One, may He be blessed, stamps out everyhuman being with the one mold of Adam, and no two are alike.

You see, the question is much like thequestion philosophers have asked for millenia, How is it that from one comesmany; that from a Gd who is a perfect unity comes a universe of diversity?

And our rabbis answer that this question isnot really a question. Because, quite the contrary, the most exquisiteexpression of a Gd who transcends form is a universe of diverse and oppositeforms.

Only from One who is neither water nor firecan come both the oceans and the stars; from One who is neither large nor smallcan come both the blue whale and the gnat; from One who is neither light nordarkness can come both the eyes of the hawk and the ears of the bat, theglistening fierceness in a leopards eye, the tender care of a mighty eagle forher eaglets, silence and noise, destruction and renewal, order and chaosandall in the same instant, even within the very same being.

As the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, ofrighteous memory, once spoke:

The One Above did notwant His creation to be a sort of simple oneness, homogeneous and uniform, withno distinction between one creation and the next. On the contrary, He desired amultitudea tremendous multitude, to the point that we exclaim, How many areYour works, oh Gd!

And not in numberalone. They are diverse, and their diversity has great meaning. On any one ofthose creations we can exclaim, How great are Your works, oh Gd!Because these differences are not insignificant, arbitrary differences. Rather,the uniqueness of each individualcreation is a commentary all of its own on the greatness of its Creator.

So too, it is the differences among humanbeings, not their similiarities, that makes them precious in their Creators eyes.

Yes, it all seems such an impossibleparadoxto say that we are both perfectly one and entirely different in thesame breath. But that, too, is a reflection of the Creator, for whom it isimpossible that anything should be impossible, for He transcends all binaries.Paradox of this sort is beauty, for it is a window within our world throughwhich transcendence shines.

Perhaps that is why we human beings eventuallycame to embrace these primal yet contrasting values of diversity and equalitynotso much from our sense of reason, but from the etzem within each of us that encapsulates and expresses themagnificence of the divine.

And that may be what truly motivates us topreserve the diversity of our world, and of one another, for in that diversityis expressed the most profound secret of the divine and of the human soul.

Paradoxically again, by describing thepreciousness of every human being in such an individualistic way, we actuallytie human beings closer together. Intimately together.

When describing the connection of one Jewishperson with another (which is a paradigm for the connection all of humanitymust learn to feel), Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes in his classic work known as the Tanya that all our souls, aside from being one etzem at their origin, are twinned.

Meaning: Not only do they all represent thesame one Gd, but they are entangled with one another in thatrepresentationmuch as particles of the same atom are entangled in theirstateseven if theyre blown off to opposite ends of the galaxy. Because not only are they all one etzemat their essential core, but in theirdifferences as well.

And therefore, what happens with one humanbeing, even in some detail that would seem entirely irrelevant to another humanbeing on the other side of the planet, affects that other person immediatelyand profoundly.

So each human being must look at another humanbeing and say, That is not an other.That is my same essence expressed in a different unique and special form. Whathappens with her happens with me. Her pain is my pain. Her happiness is myhappiness. Her destiny is my destiny.

It becomes patently clear now why we cannotstrip one human being of his or her dignity as a human being for the sake ofthe rest of humanity, and why a world that does so is not a sustainable world.Because it is an impossibility. Each individual is the entire world. We are all reflections of a single face fromevery possible angle. If youve stripped one individual of human dignity,youve stripped all of us.

In his recent book, Social Visionthe Lubavitcher Rebbes transformativeparadigm for the world, Dr. Phillip Wexler discusses how thegreat sociologist, Max Weber, had difficulty seeing the inner-world mysticcreating a viable society. Yet, Wexler writes, the Rebbe extended the veryinner and very mystic school of Chabad thought towards an activist programof social transformation and a better future for America and the world.

Heres a very practical example of how theChabad concept of etzem addresses oneof the big social dilemmas of our time: the incarcerationof criminals.

As Wexler shows, the Rebbe spoke with greatpassion of the need to replace punishment with repair. Corrective facilities,he said, must live up to their name.

In the Rebbes words:

We must see to itthat the individual should feel that he isas Gd saidin our form and likeour imageMeaning, that he is a human being. That, if only he so desires, he can be aperson in the likeness of the One Above.

But when we takeaway that possibility, when we persecute and oppress him, when we dont allowhim to raise his head, then not only is the correctional facility notconducive to its own purposeon the contrary, it actually makes him even morepredisposed to criminality than he was before his initial incarceration.

That is why it mustbe a goal of the correctional facility to raise the spirits of those who findthemselves there. In all possible ways they should be treated just like freepeople just like the prison guards. They must be given the opportunity toachieve their human potential to the most complete degree.

The guys a criminal. He stole. He damaged.Maybe he even killed. But hes a human being, and therefore in the divineimage, a fractal of Gd. And therefore, our job as a society is to teach himhow to live as the noble being he truly is.

Each of us is the world, a divine being.Thats why, if you truly respect yourself, you will enter the space of everyother human being with awe and humility.

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Actually, You Really Are the Center of the World - Why We're All Different and Why We All Count -

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