Monday, March 23, 2015

"Who am I?"

Preface: This is the article that I submitted for the "My Life Chassidus Applies Essay" plus further detail that I felt elaborated more on a practical level but did not have time to add before the deadline.

That does mean that this is pretty long.

I hope you enjoy.

"Who am I?"

             Living in the 21st century, when there no longer exists any form of social barriers, we are bombarded with an overwhelming, seemingly endless, wave of lifestyles of all types. Affected by the environment and our social surroundings, we have to deal with the constant issue of, "How do I identify myself, what is the real me?" Besides for having to address this issue stemming from the outside world, it seems that this problem is likewise forced upon us by Torah and Chassidus. Stuck between where Chassidus tells us where we should be and where we are actually holding, we are left empty handed with a sense of confusion and misdirection.

            In order to address how Chassidus teaches us how we should truly value ourselves, we must first address the dichotomy that Chassidus establishes. Chassidus teaches that the only thing that truly exists is G-d. He is not only the creator of the world, but the life force that permeates every being and everything. As such, our service of G-d should mirror this reality. Every facet of our lives should be permeated with G-dliness, whether as a direct act of service or as a conduit to further our connection. Anything that we do that is done simply for our own benefit is considered a concealment of G-dliness.

            We are left with an ultimatum. Overwhelmed by the demands and expectations that Chassidus places upon us, we can choose to identify ourselves by the reality in front of our eyes. It's not that we no longer believe what the Torah says, but it is taken more as a whimsical dream than a practical aspiration. As much as we would like to be better, we accept that reality we are currently dealing with. This decision often leads to becoming overly comfortable with one's current situation and inhibits any real growth. The other option is to remain steadfast and cling onto our convictions. We choose to define ourselves by how we want to be. We shun the bile being spewed from the baseless and corrupt world and isolate ourselves within the walls of Torah and Holiness. This decision often leads to neglect of one's personal and physical needs, and one loses touch with those around him.

            So any person who learns Chassidus has to ask himself, "Where do I find myself?" According to Carl Young and the Humanistic school of Psychology, how we categorize ourselves affects how we in turn act. We tend to behave more like the category we identify ourselves to be. So, defining where we find ourselves, doesn't only help how we view ourselves, but also leads to what type of decisions we make.

            The Rebbe Rashab, in one of his most famous Hemseichim (series) Samech Vov, discusses the creation of the world and life. In the Ma'amar, he introduces a paradox. On the one hand, only G-d himself has to power to create ex-nihilo. Yet, to 'create' is an act of leaving oneself and entering the world of the other. Once, however, the light leaves, it is no longer together with G-d, and therefore can no longer create. The Rebbe Rashab therefore introduces a new concept: Raso Ve'Shuv. In essence, the ray of G-dliness that is creating the world has a bilateral existence. It is at the same time bound together with G-d, and simultaneously far away so it can create the world. This is accomplished only by the ray's boundless dedication and nullification to G-d. Wanting nothing more than to cleave to G-d, it relinquishes any form of personal will to that of G-ds. However, what G-d truly wants if for the ray to leave his closeness and create the world. The ray is therefore in a constant state of both elevation and depression. It is only because he was given over his will for that of G-ds, does he have the ability to create life.

            When it comes down to the ultimatum of how we should look at ourselves, we are truly limited to choosing only one option. This is only true however, if we confine ourselves to our own limitations. In essence, what G-d wants from us is a life of contradictions. To bring G-dliness into the G-dless and the empty. To live in the physical world, and nevertheless use it out in the service of G-d.  The only way this is possible is if we allow G-d to truly permeate our lives. We must no longer serve G-d because of the benefits that we gain out of it, but rather we should dedicate ourselves to whatever G-d desires. We can never forget the current state where we are holding, nor can we forget where we must reach. And though, truthfully, this is quite a task, can there really be a price too high for life?

------(Until here is what I submitted, below is what I believe should of been the follow through.)------

            In the humanistic school of Psychology, there exists the "Maslow's hierarchy of needs". Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on. One must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs, the peak being self-actualization. At the bottom, right above physiological needs (eat, sleep etc.) there exists a level called safety. This entails safety of family, health, resources, but also security of morality. We, by our very nature, are drawn towards securing and establishing our view on the world and how we should relate to it. We create boxes and guidelines, and the world, in its entirety, has to fit within these parameters.  Besides for the obvious and apparent issues that it causes, including stereotyping and prejudice, there are other more subtle issues. Included in that is complacency. We not only define the world, we define ourselves. What we are and are not capable of, where we do and do not belong.

There is a fine line between questioning one's actions, and being in a constant state of growth. Complacency does not mean that one never has doubt in anything that they do, nor does it mean that they never work on themselves. That is denial. Complacency is rather a state of being, a broader scope of self-evaluation. Where does one naturally turn to? When something does not go according to plan is the de facto move to look inwards, to try and see where they could of been better? Or, is the initial reaction to look outwards, whether it is placing the blame on other people, or the circumstances that occurred?

            What Chassidus teaches is that me must have both. As Maslow explained, security of morals is at the base of human needs. One must accept that his ego must have some foundation as a basic need. However, one must also be in the constant state of growth. The paradox, and it's solution relies on G-d. G-d demands the paradox, but also supplies the possibility. If the security of our ego is not incumbent on ourselves, but rather on G-d, we are no longer limited by definitions.

            If we are able to set aside our personal perspective of the world, and accept that the true perspective is that of G-ds, regardless of whether we know how G-d truly sees the world, we are no longer bound by this need of security. The security only exists because our ego must have a base on which it can always rely. If, however, the base upon which it relies is G-d, the ego needs no safety net. This is not saying to ignore one's ego, that would be unhealthy and impractical, rather to provide the ego with an alternate foundation.

            Practically speaking, what does that me to you (me)? It means self-esteem, self-worth, happiness, etc. is not a contradiction to living a Chassidish life. It means that no matter how much you 'leave yourself', you must always come back. It means that no matter how established your life is, you must always 'leave yourself'. It means that the you of today is not content with the you of yesterday, and the you of yesterday is not aware of the you of today. It means we have to pray to G-d and ask Him, "how am I supposed to look at myself today!"