Holding up the world


Last Friday I went on a tour of the Nachlaot section of Jerusalem with Rabbi Benji Levin, grandson of Reb Aryeh Levin. Here’s one story he told. Someone once asked Reb Aryeh about his relative in the mental institution. A family member who overheard was surprised, saying “I didn’t know we had any relatives there.” Reb Aryeh explained that when visiting there he noticed one patient being abused because he had no family members who would complain on his behalf. Reb Aryeh made a point to visit this man and make him his “relative.”

Rabbi Levin also spoke generally about people of spiritual stature who lived at that time in this place where we were standing. After coming home very tired one day Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer proceeded to go for a stroll. After the third walk around the block he at last explained, “There is a poor widow who cleans my house. She has had so much trouble in her life. I know that she enjoys singing while she works. I also know that if she sees that I am there she will be embarrassed to sing. I don’t want to take this one pleasure away from her. So I made sure to stay away until she finished cleaning.”

Throughout the tour, I was reminded that these were not just stories from the past. I witnessed Reb Aryeh’s spirit vitally alive here and now in the person of his grandson. Occasionally people needed to cross in front of our group in order to get to wherever they were going. Rabbi Levine consistently took a moment to stop and greet every passerby with a warm, gentle and heartfelt “Shalom, shalom, Shabbat Shalom (a peaceful Sabbath). Sorry we’re disturbing you.”

He ended with a very powerful lesson. There is a concept of the “lamed vav” – the 36 righteous people in the generation who uphold the world. Reb Aryeh was once asked whether he is one of those. His answer was, “Sometimes.” “You see,” he explained, “Every person is sometimes one of the 36 righteous who hold up the world.” We are used to thinking that “36 righteous” is a job description, a club you belong to. You think to yourself, thank goodness we’re got these folks making sure the world doesn’t fall apart totally and now we can go about our meaningless business. But in fact, there are times in life when every one of us can and sometimes does fulfill that function of holding up the world by some extraordinary act of sacrifice, courage or kindness that we do.

This is the essence of the healing power of logotherapy. Every person has a special part to play in the world. I need to know that wherever I find myself, and whatever opportunity comes my way gives me an importance I might never even know. I may for one brief moment be holding up the world. (submitted by Batya)

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2 Responses to Holding up the world

  1. אסתר מלכה says:

    I have a problem with just this line: “some extraordinary act of sacrifice, courage or kindness that we do.”.

    I don’t ever do anything extraordinary…does that mean my life can’t have meaning? and isn’t this a contradiction of the idea that each person has a special task and place in the world? what if my task is never going to give me the chance to be extraordinary?

    I think many people think along these lines, and that is why they are often less then happy with their role and their place in the world.

    • logogroup says:

      Esther, I have two thoughts about this. 1. You never know when you may be given the opportunity to do something extraordinary. 2. You cannot always be the judge of what can be considered extraordinary. Sometimes the small things we do really are extraordinary.

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