I am the single most important entity in the universe. Also I am as significant as a speck of dust. Jewish tradition invites us to hold both these ideas about ourselves as simultaneously true. How can we manage that? And why would we want to?
Two weeks ago, the text of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) invited us to wonder whether people were closer to animals or closer to God. The text argued that “both [people and animals] go to the same place; both came from dust and both return to dust” (Kohelet 3:20). Last week, we unpacked a commentary that complicated this claim. Rabbi Simcha Bunim teaches that everyone should always have two pockets in which to carry two pieces of paper: one paper should say “I am but dust and ashes” and the other should say “The world was created for me” (Tales of The Hasidim Later Masters, Martin Buber, p.249-50). Why do people need both these reminders? When might each one be helpful?
How do you think you would feel reading a reminder that…
- …you are only dust and ashes?
- Four thumbs down
- …the whole world was created for you?
- Happy happy
- Four thumbs up
- Super duper important
Why is it sometimes important to tell yourself that you are a very small piece of the whole universe. What are some times that it is important to remember this?
- When you are winning and it makes other people feel bad.
- To remember that other people matter.
- To remind ourselves that we’re not better than anyone else.
- When you feel proud, but not like good about something you’ve accomplished. Proud like you think too much of yourself.
Why is it important to sometimes tell yourself that you are the most important thing in the world? What are some examples of times that you would want to read this piece of paper?
- When you lose a game.
- When somebody is mean to you.
- Just when you feel sad.
- If it feels like everything is bad in the world.
- If my brother broke my favorite, most important toy.
- If I were trying and failing to do something over and over again.
- If I had the kind of day where I needed to hug all the stuffed animals in the world at the same time.
While Kohelet emphasized that people are nothing but dust and ashes, we focused more on the second slip of paper, imagining moments when people need a pep talk to remind them of their importance and value.
What’s a situation where you might give a pep talk to a friend or to yourself?
- When you’re trying to learn to stand on your hands.
- The first time you try to ride a bike without training wheels.
- Learning how to swim.
- Doing a big project or a lot of homework.
- This is in sports. Like if you aren’t doing well and losing the coach might give you a pep talk to help you do better.
How can you tell when you need a pep talk?
- If I’m feeling sad or lonely, sometimes I need a pep talk.
- I don’t want a pep talk when I’m angry because I won’t listen to anything they say.
- If I’m happy I’m better at giving other people a pep talk.
When you’re having a hard time, what can someone say to help you feel better? Or what could you do for someone else having a hard time?
- If I get out in dodgeball, my friend will say “you’ll get them next time.”
- Someone can help me with something I’m having trouble with.
- If I lose a toy, someone can help me find it.
- Tell them “you can do it!”
- Help them get what they need.
- Use kind words.
- Tell them they matter.
- I could tell someone else that the world was created for them.
Do you always want to talk to the same people if you need support?
- No, if it’s about family I want to talk to my brother. If it’s about Makom I want to talk to a teacher. If it’s about school I want to talk to my friends.
- Yes, there are people that I know are going to be there for me always.
- No, if I talk to my teacher at Makom about stuff that’s going on in school, they might not know what’s happening.
What about you? When are the moments when you could use a reminder that you’re as important as the whole world? And what are the ways that you can help lift up the people around you and remind them that the whole world was also created just for them?