Shaarei Yosher, sec. 4: Connecting – part 4

And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation. Then, his self-love helps him love all of the Jewish people and [even] all of creation.
ועוד יש בזה מעלות של איש השלם ראוי להשריש בנפשו להרגיש שכל העולמות כולם הוא ה״אני״ שלו, והוא בעצמו רק כאבר קטן בתוך הבריאה כולה, ואז גם רגש אהבת עצמו עוזר לו לאהוב את כל עם ישראל, ואת כל הבריאה כולה.

We so far saw the level 0 individual, who sees himself as little more than an animal, more clever than others but driven by the same basic needs, the level 1 individual who is aware of his own spirituality and his connection to G-d, and the level 2.0 individual who includes in his notion of “ani” (“I”) his connection to and interdependency on others.

We started with the person who connects in this way to just one other, then one’s immediate family, one’s friends, and so on — level 2.0 to 2.1, 2.2, …. But this gradual progression doesn’t reach the next level until the person so realizes that they exist as part of the Jewish People, the human species and the universe as a whole.

Perhaps this is what was unique about Moshe Rabbeinu — he could understand the “Mind” of the Creator in a way the rest of us can’t because he fully saw himself as part of the totality of Creation, entirely a piece within His Great Plan. And thus, the one who was anav mikol adam (more modest than all other people) was the consummate eved Hashem (servant of G-d) and the conduit for the transmission of His Will, the Torah, to humanity.

Earlier (Ch 1 “Mission”, sec 2 in this series) we saw this quote:

(ויקרא יט) “ואהבת לרעך כמוך.”  רבי עקיבה אומר זהו כלל גדול בתורה.  בן עזאי אומר (בראשית ה) “זה ספר תולדות אדם” — זה כלל גדול מזה.

“And you shall love your friends as yourself [I am Hashem].” (Vayiqra 19). Rabbi Aqiva said, “This is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azai said, “‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’ (Genesis 5) — this is a greater principle than that.”

-Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 (vilna 30b)

R’ Aqiva and Ben Azzai argue over which verse is the one foundation. Rabbi Aqiva suggests one that applies only to people who qualify as “friends” (perhaps Jews, perhaps only observant Jews, perhaps also non-Jews who observe the 7 laws of Noah). Ben Azzzai instead says the entire Torah is founded on a verse that emphasized the fraternal bonds of all humanity — we are all children of Adam and Eve.

To fully reach Rav Shimon’s notion of the purest soul, one needs to have a universalist attitude, to have an “ani” that includes all people. Particularlism and ahavas Yisrael (Love of Jews) becomes part of that — the Jewish people are part of my extension to the whole. Just as a big part of my bestowing good on humanity as a whole is through the role given to me as a Jew.

This concept of ever broader circles of connection that the person includes as “I” is not the same as Universal Love. There is still a ranking. “A poor person who is his relative has priority to other poor. And the poor of his city are ahead of the poor of another city.” When lending money, halakhah obligates lending to family first, then neighbors, then Jews, then non-Jews (Qitzur Shulchan Arukh [QSA] 179:1), and when selling land, while priority is given to adjacent neighbors who would gain by having a single large plot, second in priority is again relatives, then friends, then neighbors, than citizens of one’s city, etc… (QSA 62:18)

This interplay between universalism and particularism appears repeatedly in tefillah. The first berakhah before Shema is all about how Hashem is perpetually creating, He is the source of both light and dark, good and evil — a description of His relationship to all of creation. Then, we get more personal and in the second berakhah bless G-d “Who loves His nation Israel.” We open the core of our prayers by starting with the universal and narrowing focus.

Aleinu, at the conclusion of tefillah, we do the reverse: we start focused on the Jewish People, “It is upon us to praise the Master…” Then, in the second paragraph, we pray for when that work reaches all of humanity, “to repair the world as a Kingdom of Shakai… As it says in Your Torah, ‘Hashem will rule forever’.”

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