middot calmness daily living calmness and the face(s) of God

calmness and the face(s) of God

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-traffic“Show me the goodness, the beauty, the kindness in every one I meet.”  – Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, The Gentle Weapon

Harsh words and attitudes rarely come primarily as a result of holy anger or indignation. Most of us would like to pretend this is the case, however. It is much more soothing to the ego to suggest that outbursts of anger come as a result of being legitimately wronged, rather than admitting that the root is more likely fear and insecurity.

The guy who cut me off on the right to make a left-hand turn probably did not think to himself, “Hmmm … I think I ought to try to kill this man today.”  In my fear at the ability of stupidity to actually ruin my life, I would almost prefer that he did. It would justify the things I say immediately after such events occur!

More often than not, most people are just trying to do the best they can, given the baggage they carry and the value systems they adhere to. There is evil and stupidity in this world but I am convinced that there are very few people who consciously seek to ruin the lives of others. Unfortunately, many people hurt others regardless of their intentions. This is a great dilemma. How do we see the good in others when we are painfully aware of the human capacity to bring about destruction (including our own)? Given such a condition, calmness with our fellow humans might seem to ignore reality.

The answer I am going to suggest is stereotypically religious, but it deserves consistent reiteration. We need to see the face of God in everyone we meet, even in those who would rather not bear his image. In creating us in his image, God endowed us with the freedom and responsibility of a creative entity. This means that we are all capable of creation and destruction and completely free to choose between them. To deny this would take us in the direction of denying the goodness of God (heaven forbid) because the picture we are given of humanity is not one of moral ambivalence and neutrality. We are “very good” creations capable of monstrous things. What is the solution? Love the other as ourselves and see the direct relationship between loving the other and loving God.

Balance in the middah of calmness enables us to approach the image of God in ourselves and others in a profound way. In calmness we can limit our own tendencies towards destructiveness because we can be thoughtful enough in our speech and actions to make a rational decision about how to proceed when faced with struggles. In calmness, we can face others and see the goodness in them. None of this is to turn a blind eye to moral failures in ourselves or the world around us. Rather, balanced calmness allows us to be more accurate in our appraisal of the situations we face without the risk of defacing the sparks of God’s light present in ourselves and others. This makes Rebbe Nachman’s prayer all the more powerful. May we all see the goodness, the beauty, and the kindness in everyone we meet.

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