Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Godliness Versus Narcissism

On this – the day before Yom Kippur, talk of Teshuva is appropriate. Rabbi Yaakov Sussman, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Hebrew Theological College addressed a group of its alumni, supporters, and our families at the annual Shabbos Shuva Seudah.  He was brilliant and I will never be able to do justice to what he said. But his message is too important to ignore. So I will try. He spoke about Teshuva and sin.

We all sin. In our heart of hearts - each of us knows what our personal weaknesses are. But as Rabbenu Yona says in Shaarei Teshuva, it all boils down to Gaavah and Taavah – arrogance and personal desires. When we act in accordance to our own selfish interests we distance ourselves from God. Self gratification and the idea that we are always right is our downfall. And that leads to sin. On the other hand - when we are more interested in the welfare of others and do not just think of ourselves we become closer to God.

When we think of the primary character trait of our Patriarch Abraham, the idea of Chesed comes to mind. Chesed – doing for others – is virtually synonymous with Avraham Avinu. This is what moved him toward God – and what moved God toward him. The Akedah where Avaraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak shows just how selfless he was. He was God directed. Not self directed.

‘What’s in it for me?’ is the antithesis of Godliness. This is what every Jew should be asking before anyone does anything in life: Is this what God wants me to do? Does God want me to behave in this way? Or to say the things I am  saying? I am not just speaking to my readers. I am speaking to myself.

The highest form of Teshuva, I think, would be to always think of God in everything you do, and not ousevles. Taavah and Gaavah are really part and parcel of the same thing:  narcissism.  If we can get ourselves to think of others instead of ourselves, without any personal agendas, that would make our Teshuva meaningful and we would become changed people. Better people.

It is not easy to do. Chances are we will revert to our old behavior and attitudes once Yom Kippur has passed. But that should at least be our goal on Yom Kippur. And who knows? Maybe some of us will succeed. And perhaps all of us will succeed at some level.

With this I wish all of my readers a G’Mar Chasima Tova, and an easy fast.