Rav Yisrael Salanter teaches,
“When I was a young man I want to change the world,
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation
When I found I couldn’t change my nation, I tried to change my town.
I couldn’t change the town, and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize that the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family.
My family and I could have made an impact on our town.
Their impact could have changed the nation, and I could have indeed changed the world.”
* * *
Of course this wisdom remains eternally relevant and impactful—but there is also the equal potential for misusing this concept.
The notion of change infers that something was once bad and must be improved or evolved in order to be good, or at least better.
But this subtle window allows rays of what we call “Sinat Chinam” to come in. Change, from anyone’s eyes, can be justified through their individual interpretation of what is “bad” and what therefore needs to be improved. Rav Shvat teaches that, “The most natural thing is to improve”
So this beautiful, humbling and disastrous humanity we call growth and improvement causes us to review what holds intrinsic goodness and inevitable negativity.
Rav Shlomo Katz brings forth a concept that I believe serves as an anecdote to this dynamic dilemma. He quotes טללי חיים from Rav Reuven Sasson, who refers to Am Yisrael as תא – meaning cells of one enigmatic and infinite organism.
He brings in the imagery and question, if one part of the body did not see eye to eye (pun intended) with the other, and therefore decided not to function…what would happen?
Absolute destruction and collapse. גלות הגוף.
So if we believe with such fervor in the beauty of כאיש אחד ולב אחד, why does the mess of our differences cause us to despise one another? Why does this push us to the extent that changing someone different than us is justifiable?
To this Rav Shlomo and Rav Sasson and truly all our holy sources remind us; when we don’t see “eye to eye” we have to ask ourselves if we are seeing each other in the first place. To see another as a quintessential quality to our character and precious atom that builds the essence of our spiritual anatomy.
I will never forget a conversation I had with a holy friend of mine, in which she asked; “Do you think we recognize each other in the next world? Without our bodies and easily identifiable features?”
Maybe her question is our answer to a lighter world.
Real change and growth comes when we see the person in front of us for who and why they are. To witness and accept the incredible privilege it is to know them.
May our eyes be blessed with the realities that live within and around us.
Have a meaningful fast.