In case you missed the last blog post: I have been serving as the rabbi of Camp Chaverim, an amazing camp for children and young adults with special needs. I would like to continue sharing some lessons that I am learning along the way.
In my capacity as a rabbi, there are a few young men who come to me with questions on prayer, the weekly Torah portion, or general Jewish law. Sometimes I need to ask them to repeat themselves as they don’t all speak and articulate clearly, but after the second or third time I am usually confident that I understand their question.
At first, I was giving quick answers to the questions that I knew off the cuff, or letting them know that I would get back to them if I did not know the answer. As time went on, I realized that the faster I answered the less excited they were, even when it was the answer that I thought they wanted to hear. I started paying a little more attention and began to understand that they are far more excited with the opportunity of coming to the rabbi with a question than actually getting the answer. I realized that sometimes they expend great effort coming up with a question just so that they can get that special attention and connection. As an example, there is one young man who comes up to my seat numerous times during each prayer session to see what page we are at. On his way up to where I sit he passes at least 20 people who know the correct page, but it seems that he enjoys connecting with the rabbi in his own special way. We all crave attention and connection and it seems that we are created with an innate need for it. While interacting with these special campers, I see that nature even more clearly.
Looking Inward: Where Do Our Feelings Of Self Worth Come From?
A few years ago, I heard a very deep idea from a very wise rabbi. He pointed out that if our self esteem comes from anything that is outside of us, we will be deeply unhappy. For example, if we define ourselves by the career we have, the house on the beach we own, or the Bentley we drive, we are getting our self esteem from things that we intrinsically understand are not the essence of WHO we are. If we get our self esteem from the good deeds we have done, the altruistic relationships we have built, and from our innate potential for greatness, we will be deeply happy because that is the essence of WHO we are.
This idea can be developed even further. Perhaps the most basic source of self worth is that we matter and are indispensable. The Talmud explains that although G-d immediately filled the world with full ecosystems and animal life, He created only one man—Adam. Why? Why not start with a few million humans? The Talmud explains that G-d wanted us to understand that He would have created the entire world for just one person. The Talmud takes this lesson to the next level and writes, “every person is obligated to say, ‘G-d would have created the entire world just for me!’” Understanding our self worth in G-d’s eyes gives us a sense of value and purpose.
So I challenge myself and anyone who would like to join in: let’s try to say this to ourselves on a regular basis. Let’s focus on the fact that in G-d’s eyes we matter, we are incredibly significant, and we are not indispensable.
The campers here reminded me of this lesson. They showed me the value of simply being heard and validated. Let’s get deep and understand that our ultimate source of validity is our divine mission. Let’s also do everyone around us the favor of not answering questions too quickly and giving everyone a few more moments of our attention and focus. It will mean the world to them.
More on this? https://www.lasvegaskollel.org/post/blue-puzzle-piece