Men of my Counsel
A person needs acknowledgment in order to survive. A person needs to feel that he or she is significant and that their life makes a difference. Without this feeling of self-respect and self-worth it is difficult to stay afloat on the raft of life.
There are different levels of acknowledgment. When you walk in to a store and the person behind the counter smiles at you and offers a greeting; that can be an act of acknowledgment. Sometimes you actually get a sincere greeting from a store-clerk; not because they are out for your patronage; but because they respect you as another human being. Being acknowledged as a human being is important, but there is more to acknowledgement than that.
If the goals and aspirations that are dear to your heart are important to other people and these people appreciate that you are the person that will bring these goals to fruition, then the acknowledgement that you receive from them is so much deeper and more significant. These people will have acknowledged; not only your humanity, but also your role in life.
If you are blessed with a group of close friends who open their hearts to you and these friends constantly identify with your struggles and your aspirations; you will find yourself being affirmed and accepted on a constant basis.
The Psalmist declares that he is blessed with such an inner core of friends; men with whom he can constantly confide (Psalm 119:24). These “men of his counsel” are the commandments of the Torah. Each one of the commandments is a personal directive from the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth charging man with God’s work in this world. Can there be a greater confirmation and acknowledgment of one’s significance? What can be greater than the direct word of God telling you: “My son; My daughter; I, the Creator of heaven and earth entrust you with this particular act. I believe you can do it and it is important to Me that you do it.” Can you ask for more?
No; it is not that God “needs” our service. As Elihu declared: “If you are righteous; what have you given Him?” (Job 35:7). God does not “need” the existence of the universe altogether. But as far as there is a universe and as far as God has a purpose with this universe, then our deeds play a role in His plan.
Just as it is possible to receive acknowledgment and affirmation so can we receive the opposite of these; we can be invalidated and our sense of self-worth can be undermined. When we walk in to a store and we sense that the greeting that we receive has only been offered in order to buy our patronage; we have received a message of invalidation. We have been told that our humanity is not something that is worthy of acknowledgment. – Most people can handle such negative messages.
How about when we are treated rudely? Or how about when our basic human dignity is ignored and someone physically hits us? It is much more difficult to deal with such an extreme invalidation of our humanity – but most people can still bounce back from such an experience. Perhaps our friends and family will offer moral support. Perhaps we can draw upon our own inner strength and reaffirm our own dignity as people created in the image of God.
How about when those who stand against us exhibit a complete lack of respect for our very lives? How about if this comes together with a comprehensive message that invalidates every one of our goals and aspirations? How about if these negative messages are coupled with our enemies violently trampling on our entire thought process while the rest of humanity looks on with indifference?
That was the holocaust. But the holocaust didn’t happen in a vacuum. The holocaust was merely the apex of 2000 years of the invalidation of the Jew as a human being and of the invalidation of everything that the Jew stood for. For 2000 years the European defined the Jew as “sub-human” or worse. What the Jew considered holy and righteous was considered by the fellow inhabitants of the planet to be evil and impure. And these fellow inhabitants of the European continent did not hide their feelings; they put them on display in their Churches, in their town-squares and in their museums of art.
So how did the Jew survive?
When the Jew went out into the street the message was: you are dirt, you are worthless and you are a child of the devil. But when the Jew turned to God’s holy law; the voice of the Creator of heaven and earth greeted him or her with the message: “you are my beloved child in whom I delight.” Yes; the nations around us even took our law and tried to prove from the very love-letter written to us by God that He hates us and has cast us away. But the commandments were always there to reassure us. The holiness of the Sabbath, the purity and holiness of the commandments, the Godly joy of the holidays and the closeness we experienced in the days of awe all of these were appointed by God to stand at our side. Not only to affirm our humanity and sense of self-worth but to affirm our every step as servants of God, to affirm our thought process and to validate our role in God’s plan.
“If not for Your Torah as my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” (Psalm 119:92)
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal