Self-surpassing habits

Today’s ‘selfie culture’ that enthrones the individual can only take us so far.  We can go much further when we attach ourselves to that which lies beyond ourselves.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used to admonish against limiting ourselves to self-expression, commending instead self-attachment.

Gratefully, this season of Graduations offers a measure of relief from candidate stump speeches with its inspiring stream of Commencement addresses.  The dignity and trust which the campaigns lack is compensated for by the campus. Herein we glimpse the difference between the pursuit of power and the instilling of influence.

And no Commencement address this year has drawn deeper from Torah values than the words delivered by Robert Kraft this week when he was honored by Yeshiva University.  In sharing his story and honoring lessons from his parents, Harry and Sarah Kraft of blessed memories, his moving message was self-surpassing and sacred.  Dream big.  Serve, help, and repair however you can.  And forge connections that make the lives of others richer and better.

These lessons are reinforced by the introduction of Jubilee legislation in this week’s Torah portion.  It enjoins a comprehensive economic restoration every 50 years. Yet the reboot itself does not take hold until the tenth day of that year on Yom Kippur, “on the Day of Atonement shall the (Jubilee) horn pass through all your land” (Lev. 25:9).  Why is the Jubilee triggered by Yom Kippur and not by Rosh Hashanah?

Perhaps the confluence of personal forgiveness with societal equity is meant to be suggestive.  Personal good aims to realize the greater good.  Yom kippur is not just about individual atonement.  When it works, being spiritually cleansed helps turn us outward to serve society.

“The best things we do.  The businesses we built.  The people we help. The championships we win. The Tzedaka we give.  The communities we strengthen” Robert Kraft reminds us that these things “are truly a gift from God.”  May we dream, serve, and share with self-surpassing habits that awaken the good and convey the holy.

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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