William Hamilton

Mattering more

Consider enlarging your identity. Go from “I’m an athlete” to “I’m the type of person who’s mentally tough and loves a physical challenge;” from “I’m a great soldier” to “I’m the type of person who’s disciplined, reliable, and great on a team;” from “I’m a CEO” to “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.” This strong advice from Habit-formation guru James Clear feels timely.

When people see themselves in too limited a way, they risk narrowing the scope of their strengths. Maybe you aren’t as agile as you once were. Once upon a time, you would wave-off an inconsiderate comment. Now it sticks like velcro. You might begin to get down on yourself, scratching your head, saying “I can’t seem to get things right these days.”

Widening the lens of your self-perception can help. Expanding your view of the person you meet in the mirror each morning can give you a boost.

Sometimes we need to sharpen it or fine-tune our sense of self. But these days, when alarming trends are gaining ground and closing in, enlarging your perception of your skill set can be reassuring.

This week’s portion of Torah introduces a first-fruits ceremony. A basket of your finest harvested-produce is gratefully presented to the religious leader (Deut. 26:4-11). The basket itself was made of peeled willow twigs (Talmud Bikurim 1:3). Willows sometimes are associated with weeping. But in the grammar of Jewish tradition, they emphasize inclusion. Willows during the Festival of Sukkot involve everybody. They leave nobody out. They broaden and extend the scope of a gathering.

What’s true about the material of a basket that holds our first-fruits, might also apply to our own assessment of the first-fruits of our own beings. When you expand the ways in which you can be of service to people you do more than expand the scope of your competencies. You also expand how much you matter. 

We all know the downside of egotistical self-inflation. May we come to a new appreciation for the upside of how wide our reach can be, and of how many ways we can better the lives of others.  

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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