Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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Nothing to Brag About

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

This week we read two portions of the Torah. Here are some thoughts about the second, Metzora.

This portion teaches us the laws of purification. The unclean person described here suffered from a disease that manifested on his skin. Our sages explain that this disease is a physical manifestation of a spiritual disease that was brought about mostly from the sin of evil gossip. The afflicted one is exiled outside the camp and suffers great humiliation as a result of his sin. Since his sin of gossip humiliated the person he sinned against, he too must be humiliated.

We are told that in order to know God, we must be humble, and that Moshe was the most humble of all people. But is this humility that the plagued person suffers the same type humility that we are to strive for?

No, not at all. The humility the plagued person suffers is the result of his sin. He is embarrassed because of what he did, and as a result of the treatment he receives, he realizes how low he is. This is his humility.

The humility we are to strive for is the result of our realizing just how small we are in comparison to our Creator.

Look at your precious body. Is there anything dearer to you than your body? If you would look at that very body with a microscope, you would see that it is really zillions of tiny molecules and mostly empty space. In fact, scientists claim that the human body is 99.9 percent empty space. According to the Torah, they are close but not quite right.

When we magnify the molecules we are made of, we see that they are actually zillions of atoms and mostly empty space. Here too, science says that the atoms are really 99.9 percent empty space.

Look deeper at the atoms, quarks, gluons and other tiny particles. When we magnify them, we find that they too are made up of billions and billons of even tinier particles and even more vast empty space. The smaller the particle, the more empty space. Soon, we find absolutely nothing at all!

That’s right. Your entire body, that physical thing you think you are, is right now being made out of nothing. All of creation is like this. God not only created the universe out of nothing, but He continues to do so at every moment. Right this second, He is forming this entire complex universe out of no preexisting matter. It is simply creation of something from nothing. (yesh me’ayin).

So what is so great about you anyway that you could possibly be arrogant? You are made out of nothing!

This is an exercise in humility. We can come to humility from many directions. Ask yourself if what you have accomplished in all your years was as good as you could have done had you really tried hard. Did you do all that you could have? Ask yourself what are you going to take with you when you leave this world. How important are you? Such thinking will bring you to the humility we seek. Humility does not have to come from sin. It can come from the plain humble facts.

I was praying outside by the Kotel early one Shabbat morning when a very large insect flew over and stopped just a few yards in front me. It was hovering at eye-level, completely still. It was nicely colored, some gold and brown. I was taken by the way it froze there, not moving up or down, just hanging out motionless. I began to wonder how it is that those insect molecules are able to float perfectly still in midair? Its wings must have been flapping fiercely, but I could not see them, just this large, perfectly still, fat, suspended bug.

I thought not to waste my time thinking about and watching such a sight during prayer, but the suspended bug was just so fascinating. How does nature work it out that such a heavy thing could stand there silent, stock-still, in the air? I wondered what its consciousness might have been right then. What was it “thinking” as it perched there, four or five feet off the ground?

I was staring at the floating insect, trying to come closer to understanding what it really was. My eyes were fixed, almost glued onto that wonder, when all of a sudden a large black blur swept fiercely into view. It came racing across the sky, zooming in from the far-left corner of my left eye, streaking in front of me, on to and out of the far-right corner of my right eye, one swift swoop immediately out of sight. ZOOM! The floating insect instantly disappeared! Vanished!

The black blur turned out to be a large, hungry bird. All that majesty, all that mystery floating in the air, that space-station with all its structure that supported a living being that could actually fly, standing fixed in one place, stock-still, hovering while setting its direction, calculating its next move, gone, lunch for something bigger, something that flies faster, with a greater vision that can spot a bug from a block away, something hungry, naturally sweeping the sky, snatching, gulping, so it can keep doing what it was programmed to do.

Quietly somewhere, a large gray cat watches the big black bird, waiting to see where it might land, its steel eyes anticipating.

And us? What is around the corner waiting to eat us? Are we any more sturdy than that bug? “What are we?” [ii] ...Nothing to brag about.

[i] Lev 12:2
[ii] Morning prayers-“Master of all worlds”

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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