By Rabbi Dan Lewin
The essential feature of wisdom (chochmah) is expansion and flexibility. It involves broadening one’s vision to perceive the bigger picture. In contrast, at the core of all mental struggles and immaturity is a narrow viewpoint and rigidity — being stuck in one’s immediate perspective.
Similarly, joy can be seen as the soul’s expansion, while sadness represents its constriction. Interestingly, wisdom and happiness share a common underlying force — an interplay of lightness and humility — that enables one to view the world through a wider lens.
While entering the mind of another person is a challenging task, making an effort to view a scene or situation from multiple angles, through the eyes of others, can bring us closer to the truth. Although complete understanding of someone else’s perspective is nearly impossible, adopting a mindset of empathy and considering various viewpoints allows us to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the scene.
Every aging individual we encounter, with their frailty, slouched posture and slow movements, carries within them the memories of their once bright and youthful selves. Each skilled and robust athlete we admire was once a helpless infant, entirely dependent on the care and nourishment provided by their caregivers. The carefree and playful child we witness today will, with the passage of time, experience the unforgiving changes that come with aging.
And, of course, death is a part of life’s journey, as souls depart and bodies return to dust. We are in this world for a relatively short period and even the most accomplished and influential leaders cannot carry material possessions or property into the next realm. Only their legacy endures as a testament to their existence.
In the process of helping some prominent people in the Dallas community to write their memoirs, I’m always amazed to see how someone in their 90s can still speak about their father through the lens of a child — carrying the reverence, emotion, scars and lessons from youth. Even as they sit at the table with their own children, they continue to gaze upon their little girl, now a grandmother herself, with the same proud adoration. Regardless of the years that have elapsed, the child will always be a child; the parent stays a parent.
Fully embracing milestones
In this week’s Torah readings, we delve into the sections of Mattot-Masei, where the overarching theme centers on the concept of journeys. Life itself is often likened to a journey, comprising significant stopping points that we celebrate and internalize, known as simchas. Unlike the spontaneous waves of emotion which we experience in response to immediate circumstances, simchas — such as births, bris ceremonies, b’nai mitzvah celebrations, weddings and significant birthdays — are inherently ordained as moments of profound joy. Our role in these moments is to fully appreciate and embrace the present, adorning the setting with added beauty, love and festivity.
At the same time, it is crucial to absorb the diverse individual experiences and memories that unfold within the shared space. Whether it is kids, parents, grandparents or guests, each person in the room experiences moments of joy unique to them during the celebration. The scene holds a different significance for each individual, especially those in the family, as their perspectives, relationships and age shape their experience. While we tend to appreciate the event from our own viewpoint, taking the time to look through the eyes of others offers a fresh perspective with many lessons — what does this moment mean for them?
Similarly, when you encounter another person, try to glimpse the complete individual: their background, their journey and where they are heading. Look beyond their current appearance or state of their physical body at this moment in their life.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.