Think of toddlers. They learn to walk. They learn to talk. And among the first words they learn is “mine!”
It takes a while to teach them how to share. It takes even longer to teach them how to feel part of a group. Remember watching your young little darling sitting in a circle at the pre-school and not actually joining the group singing. Your little one was too busy looking around, being distracted. By the time the kids reach first grade, they have learned to function as a group. The circle of children actually sings together. They share with each other and start to play on teams.
Jump ahead a decade and look again. Yes, they can play together as a team. Yes, they can sing together. Nevertheless, they have regressed as teenagers to thinking about “me.” Many, if not most, have become self-engrossed.
When teens turn into adults, which is not an absolute assumption, they are faced with a gnawing question: Who is more important? Me or us?
There is a distance between “me” and “us” that leaves room for a spectrum of commitment. We all know people who are totally self-engrossed. And we all know people who are totally committed to the group in some form or another. Most of us are somewhere along the spectrum between the extremes.
To a great extent, contemporary life is more about “me” than about “us,” in so many ways and in so many aspects of life. Is that good? Is it bad? (Please provide proof to support your answer.)
A glance over our shoulder – historically – can enlighten us an inkling of insight into this question.
At this point on the Jewish calendar, the weekly Torah reading is concerned with God giving the Jews the Torah (Exodus chapter 19, 20 & 24). One of the most famous lines from this episode is where the Jews announce, “We will do, and we will listen!” (Ibid. 24:7). Rabbi Yitzchak Me’ir of Gur, a Chassidic Rebbe, asked why the verb is plural. It should have said, “I will do, and I will listen,” with each Jew personally accepting the Torah. He answers that each individual Jew accepted the Torah as part of the Jewish nation as a whole. Everyone was in this together as a team, so to speak.
How did the Jews think of themselves? As “me” or as “us”? Rabbi Yitzchak Me’ir answers that on this momentous occasion they was no “me.” There was only “us.”
But that is not the final word in this matter. “God said to Moshe, ‘Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, so the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.’” (Ibid. 19:9) Listen carefully what God says to Moshe. “I’m going to make you into a very special, very important person.” How did Moshe react? The very same verse ends with, “Moshes relayed the words of the people to God.” Why was this necessary? God didn’t hear the people’s reaction!?
Rabbi Yitzchak Me’ir responds that Moshe was saying, “I am not someone special. I am part of the people.” The greatest Jewish leader was also the humblest person. He was saying to God, “There is no ‘me’ here. There is only ‘us.’”
Overall, it is important to recognize and act as part of “us.” We are taught that all Jews are responsible one for the other. We are meant to act as a team.
And our leaders – in every walk of life – are also meant to be part of the team. They are also meant to answer the question of “who is more important? Me or us?” by saying “us.”