Thursday, October 2, 2008

Many Paths, One Destination

I had mentioned yesterday some words from Martin Buber's "The Way of Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidim ," and I wanted to just highlight a couple of really fascinating things he discussed about, well, the title of the text -- the way of man.

This is Chapter Two of the very, very brief book, and it starts off with Rabbi Baer of Radoshitz approaching his teacher, the "Seer" of Lublin, imploring him to "Show me one general way to the service of G-d." The teacher replied, "It is impossible to tell men what way they should take. For one way to serve G-d is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone should carefully observe what way his heart draws him to, and then choose this way with all his strength."

Buber comes out of this with a very, very important point (so pay attention!): "The great and holy deeds done by others are examples for us, since they show, in a concrete manner, what greatness and holiness is, but they are not models which we should copy. However small our achievements may be in comparison with those of our forefathers, they have their real value in that we bring them about in our own way and by our own efforts."

The significance of this lesson is the individuality of paths to G-d. Buber goes on essentially to say that it is precisely because we do not resemble our own, unique selves and rather that we strive to be like others that the Messiah is delayed. This, I think, is pretty interesting it its idea. I always tell people a joke I heard that I think emphasizes the essential wrongness of man: What is the difference between a man and a dog? A dog knows how to act like a dog. (*begin laugh track*)

Buber asserts "Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique.  ... Every man's foremost task is the actualization of his unique, unprecedented and never-recurring potentialities, and not the repetition of something that another, and be it even the greatest, has already achieved."

A great rabbi, Zusya, once said a short while before his death: "In the world to come I shall not be asked: 'Why were you not Moses?' I shall be asked: 'Why were you not Zusya?'"

The point here is that G-d is served and reached in many ways. As Buber says, "Mankind's great chance lies precisely in the unlikeness of men, in the unlikeness of their qualities and inclinations. G-d's all-inclusiveness manifests itself in the infinite multiplicity of the ways that lead to him, each of which is open to one man." (Emphasis my own!) Even the Great Seer of Lublin had more words to this effect, in response to disciples of a deceased zaddik who were shocked at the Seer's different customs: "What sort of G-d would that be who has only one way in which he can be served!"

This, in my opinion, is G-d. A G-d who, as Buber says, does not say "This way leads to me and that does not," but rather says "Whatever you do may be a way to me, provided you do it in such a manner that it leads you to me."

So those are my thoughts. It was an interesting read, albeit it is a little outdated, but the messages (as I've provided here) are pretty thorough and poignant for these days leading up to Yom Kippur. I think this topic -- the many, individual, unique paths to the one destination -- is particularly significant. We're all trying to find out way, but we're often told that there is only this way or that way, but in truth there is not one way because each of our paths are uniquely different and that, as Buber points out, should be the ADVANTAGE, not the DISADVANTAGE.

Be well, and keep reflecting!