Things I have Learnt
or My Guiding Principle
by Esther Shuker
Shavuot is meant to be the culmination of 49 days of work on certain middot, traits, in order to improve ourselves and make us ready to receive the Torah. We started counting on the 2nd day of Pessach. Every year and at every Chag, we are supposed to feel the same as the very first time the event occurred. The same cosmic energy is present at the time, so today we should be feeling as if we have all just received the Torah. It is a beautiful thought. I can see you all sitting straighter, smiling more broadly, glowing more stunningly than when you walked in!
During those 49 days, we work on particular middot – or emanations. In the Kabbalah, there are 10 Emanations or lights, through which God interacts with, and relates to, His world. On Shavuot we deal with 7 of these:
1. Chesed ― Loving-kindness
2. Gevurah ― Justice and discipline
3. Tiferet ― Harmony, compassion
4. Netzach ― Endurance
5. Hod ― Humility
6. Yesod ― Bonding
7. Malchut ― Sovereignty, leadership
These are further split so that each day of the 49 we are working on different combinations of the traits until we have finally honed and polished our characters to hopefully be the best we can be.
I would like to briefly mention things I have learnt over the years which I am still working on. Perhaps you will relate to one or two of them too.
It is beautiful to see the effect a smile can have, both on the smiler and the recipient. I’m sure you have experienced this – when you have an unpleasant matter to deal with, in a shop, a bank or anywhere, if you just approach the shopkeeper with a smile, you see a change in their body language, in their whole demeanour .. it is like a magic trick. It also makes us feel calmer and level-headed in having to deal with the matter reasonably. It’s worth a try and it’s free!
This is one of the 7 traits listed above, but it is such a difficult one to master ... we are told individually that the world was created for me and at the same time that whatever deed I do can tip the balance of the universe for the good or for bad. These are huge concepts to reconcile. I personally like the idea of feeling that I have been chosen by G-d to be here and He has given me my own role and mission to fulfil which no one else can accomplish. This makes me very humble before G-d – the fact that He has chosen me for something only I can do, is very humbling as well as hugely flattering. If only I could figure out what it was!
Being the best you can be
When we are young we are often compared to our siblings, or friends or others around us, or we compare ourselves with others ... it takes years to comprehend that there is really no one we need to be compared with, only ourselves. Hashem doesn’t want us to be like our siblings, our friends or like Einstein – He wants us to be the best we can be ... I need to be the best Esther I can be, and I can do this by self-evaluation, working on character traits ... and thank God we have a lifetime to do so.
Try to be around people who make you a better person
This is not always easy to achieve – there are times when we have to be in contact with people we wouldn’t necessarily choose to. However, apart from those obligatory encounters, it is a joy to spend time with people you feel happy around, people who enable you to be a better person and with whom you have a reciprocal relationship.
Everything can be turned into a Mitzvah or an opportunity to show that Jews are decent people
Enjoy washing up? Cleaning the bathroom? Scraping mud from your child’s football boots? Traipsing round Tesco yet again? The School run? So many of life’s errands can feel like boring drudgery, but it just takes a little change of thinking to realise that they are all mitzvoth. It can be challenging sometimes to see how going to the supermarket can be a mitzvah but it’s possible – we go to shop for food; food is what we need to sustain our families and keep them healthy. Nurturing our children is a mitzvah. There are many offshoots too – e.g. whilst at the supermarket, the way you treat your fellow shoppers, the way you greet the check-out girl, the way you park; all of these can be tests of good behaviour and showing the world that Jews are good, honest, kind, considerate and so on.
Learning from others – young and old
It used to be the case that we respected our elders, we learnt from them, we showed great humility at their life’s experiences and benefitted from their wisdom. This is still true today.
The novelty, however, is that now, whenever we have problems of a technological nature, we turn to our children, grandchildren – or someone else’s children to resolve them for us. I’m sure this is another way of God making me humble as my 15 year old resolves in less than a minute the problem I’ve spent an hour upon...
This may well lead to a decline in the marriage rate among young people since parents will be reluctant to let their children marry for fear of being unable to sort out their computer problems alone...
It’s never too late to fulfil ambitions
When my dear husband invited me to Iraq recently, it was a wish I had dreamed of for 25 years ... to see the country of his birth, the place from which he escaped from Saddam Hussein 42 years ago, to meet the Kurdish people who helped him escape; it was an ambition which appeared more and more unattainable due to the political situation. But we did it! Next stop: Damascus.
The sign on my dentist’s wall is correct: ‘All of our patients make us happy: some when they arrive, some when they leave’. I haven’t quite figured out which category I fall into but my desire is to be the former and not the latter!
These are some of the guiding principles which work for me. I am sure each one of you has your own list ... I believe that Judaism is a gift which guides us and encourages us to continuously grow until we become polished diamonds. May we all sparkle this Shavuot and rejoice in the journey towards fulfilment..