There is an Indian legend about a man who inherited a sitar from his grandfather. He had to replace the strings, but he loved it because it was his grandfather’s. The bow gave out, and later the lower part of the instrument, cracked and had to be waxed on the inside. In the end, the entire lower part was replaced and reattached to the upper part. When the upper part cracked it too was first waxed and then replaced. Its owner still loved it because it was his grandfather’s sitar.
Sometimes you can end up replacing and recreating so many parts of you that you don’t know who you really are anymore. Would you be you if you had to leave your job or change careers? How about if you had to move to an entirely new country and begin again? Would you still be you? I think you would.
When you peel away all the external definitions, inside the self is still the familiar old you. Your soul is always there, and has always been there. There are ten names for the soul in Hebrew. One of them is kavod, which means honor or respect. Within you there is a piece of something greater than your interactions with other people or with the world. That part of you can be forgotten or buried under layers of self-criticism. I just heard form a woman who told me that she feels that no matter what she does, it isn’t perfect. Her Shabbos isn’t as joyous as she would like it to be. Her tefillah aren’t as focused, and her acts of kindness aren’t’ always completely sincere. She thinks her life is a failure, and doesn’t know how to escape from her feelings of self-loathing and despair. Her mistake isn’t so ridiculous s. You can easily confuse your soul with your deeds. Her soul, like yours and mine, is perfect. It ideally should find its self-expression be doing deeds that give it a voice. Even when this doesn’t happen, it is still perfect. Unexpressed and mute, but perfect.
When you see your inherent perfection, you don’t become a narcissist. You become aware of how beloved you are by Hashem, how fortunate you are to be in His world, and how much similarity you really have with every Jew you encounter. Each one has a soul whose name is also “kavod”.
I just heard a story that can’t leave me. One of last generation’s famous “maggidim”, speakers on topics having to do with your spiritual journey, was R. Yankele Galinski. He was hilarious. His speeches were always heavily peppered with brilliant cuts at the human ego, especially his own. His son, Nachman, was taken ill with a condition that was potentially fatal. The doctors here had nothing to offer him, but told him that there are doctors in the States who have had good results with novel procedures that they recently initiated. The cost was overwhelming. Two of his friends couldn’t just stand by and watch his almost daily disintegration, so they decided to do whatever they have to do to raise the funds that would make it possible for him to fly to the States for treatment. They flew to NY where one of their first stops was in a large well known suburban yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva received them cordially and asked how he could be of help. When he heard the story, he asked who it was who needed treatment. When they replied, “Nachman Galinski”, the Rosh Yeshiva said, “You can fly back to Israel. I am undertaking the entire funding”. They were astounded. “I’m going to call a general meeting of the entire yeshiva. Come into the main hall, and you’ll hear why I’m doing this.” The Bachurim didn’t know why they were called together on an ordinary day. The Rosh Yeshiva told them the reason forNachman’s two friend’s journey, but then said, “Everything that I am, and everything I give you, comes from Nachman Galinski.”
“ When I finished High School my Rosh Yeshiva influenced me to strive for more Torah than the Modern Orthodox yeshiva I had attended offered. “You could be a real talmid chacham” he told me. He told me about his own yeshiva days in Bnei Brak, and something inside me was ignited. I wanted to feel the energy of a real Beis Midrash, and see the leading scholars with my own eyes. I enrolled in the yeshiva that he had attended. It was at first a dreadful mistake. I had been learning Gemarrah four class periods a week, each period was three quarters of an hour. My bench mates had been learning Gemarrah all day since fourth grade. I had always been the top of my class. Here, it would be dishonest to say I was even on bottom. I was nowhere. I couldn’t follow the lectures, couldn’t hold a chevrusa, and couldn’t admit to myself that I had failed, and would do better in a yeshiva aimed at people with more limited backgrounds. One day there was a shiur klalli. I sat with my notebook open, doodled, folded the papers, tried to get even the most general idea of what was under discussion, but I was like Hansel but with no bread crumbs to follow the trail home. I took out a page, turned it into an airplane, and randomly threw it. The wind caught it, and it hit the Rosh Yeshiva in the face. He did not look amused. I sensed that it wasn’t just about his kavod, it was about kavod hatorah, and there would be no negotiations. “Whoever threw this, please leave the room immediately”? I looked down, hoping against t hope that when he sees that no one is leaving, he would just go on with the shiur where he left off. It didn’t happen. He repeated his demand a second time and I instinctively knew that if he repeated it a third time he would leave the room and bedlam would break out. I still didn’t have the courage to get up. Nachman Galiski did. He rose; left the room took the blame and was expelled from the yeshiva. His father pleaded with the Rosh Yeshiva who readmitted him, but he couldn’t have known that the minute he got up. He saved my life.”
Nachman Galinski’s greatness flowed from his recognition that every person is significant enough that it is worth sacrificing what is most precious to save him. He didn’t know me. He didn’t see me here with you. Hashem may or may not give you the opportunity to save someone else’s life”.
But He gave you the opportunity to save
Unique and ageless
Born from Divinity
Demanding its identity
Be known always.