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Sometimes Less is More

Friday, 8 November, 2019 - 3:40 pm

Are you selfish? Doesn’t sound good.

At the same time, we each need to focus on self, to care for our own needs.

So where do we draw the line?

Hillel, our famous 1st century Sage, put it this way: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” In other words: I need to look after myself, because who else should?

But then he added: “…And if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
Hillel proposed a worldview that sees me – and you – as being created to make this a better world. So we need to take care of ourselves, in order to fulfill our mission.  That is why the flight attendant instructs us, in the case of a loss of cabin pressure, to put on our own oxygen mask before tending to those that need our assistance. But, that’s very different from looking out for ourselves because we view ourselves as the center of the universe.

Because, if everything is about “me,” then – in the final analysis - “what am I?”
As an antidote to self-centeredness, the Torah tells us to [metaphorically] ‘circumcise the foreskin’ of our hearts. The ‘foreskin’ refers to the emotional numbness – the psychological tone-deafness - that comes from self-indulgence. When we are overly self-focused, we unwittingly create a psycho-spiritual ‘overlay’ that interferes with our ability to connect genuinely with others. In other words, when self-care crosses into self-absorption, ‘self’ becomes the only thing that truly matters. Self-absorption opens the door to ‘ME-centeredness’, which automatically leaves less room for ‘WE’.

So, the Torah tells us to cut through this stifling attitude; to liberate our hearts and souls, by freeing ourselves from the emotional prison of a self-serving life.  This attitude is sometimes referred to as temperance. Practically, it means taming the ‘self-indulgence’ muscle by training ourselves not to partake in every available pleasure. Sometimes there’s addition through subtraction. Take away a little ‘me’ focus and there is room to create some more ‘we’ focus.

That’s what emotional circumcision means. We peel away the unhealthy layers of self-centeredness in the way we act, speak and feel. And in so doing, we break down the unhealthy walls of self, making us emotionally available to those who matter most -- free to breathe the fresh air of meaningful relationships.

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