Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Torah of L-A-I-T-N-E-T-O-P

A few weeks ago the weekly Torah portion, Yitro, discussed the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. One of the things that we discussed at Shabbat lunch was an idea presented by the Midrash that every Jew at Mt. Sinai heard the giving of the Torah from G-d slightly differently, each one according to his or her individual potential.

This is a very intriguing concept, because clearly the commandments of the Torah were not different for each person. The Torah says clearly that its laws apply to all Jews. The same Sabbath is the Sabbath for all Jews, pork is non-Kosher for all Jews, etc. But nonetheless the Midrash says that each Jew at Mt. Sinai received his or her own personal telepathy from G-d, hearing the Torah in a special way that reflected his or her own potential. The laws were the same, but each Jew was shown the spirituality, inner meaning, and special connection that he or she could find with each particular law.

When I raised the subject at lunch I hadn't intended to relate it to Harry Potter. (Not every word out of my mouth has to do with Harry Potter, sorry!) But one of my kids (I've trained them well!) realized that this concept, that each Jew receives Torah in a personalized way that reflects their own potentials, is analogous to the "mirror of ERISED" in chapter twelve of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The mirror, as Harry Potter fans all know, magically shows each person the deepest desire of their hearts, reflecting (so to speak) their strongest personal desire. Harry saw himself with his parents, Ron saw himself standing out from the rest of his brothers, and we're told that the most content person would see himself exactly as he is.

It's interesting to contrast seeing your deepest desire with seeing your potential for greatness. Neither reflects your current reality, and neither may be in your future. One is what you'd like the most, but which you may never achieve. One is something you have the ability to achieve, but might not want to enough to try.

Of course, anyone who gets the most enjoyment out of achievement, out of personal accomplishment, would probably have their potential greatness be similar to their deepest desire. Maybe they'd desire to be even greater than their potential, but presumably they'd be similar. But for most of us, our deepest desire are for other things, not for our own greatness but for something we're missing or something that would give us the most pleasure.

The message of the Midrash is that each of us has unique abilities to be great, and that the Torah can somehow help us all achieve that greatness. Someone might be great in the "chessed," helping others, that they can do. Someone might be great in truly caring for other people as he/she cares for themself. Someone might be great in achieving truly spiritual prayer or meditation. Someone might be great in scholarship. But somehow each of us has a truly unique way that we can be great.

I think that this tells us something about how we look at Torah. A lot of schools and books push us to look at Torah "the right way," to see Torah and Judaism all in the same way. But this seems to be missing the point. While we are all commended to keep the Torah's laws, we also need to look at Torah in our own unique ways, to find how we can all reach our potentials.

The Torah is not a mirror of ERISED, focusing us on whatever we most want. But psychologists know that what we most want may not be what's best for us. The Torah is, I think, a mirror of LAITNETOP, reflecting all of our unique potentials for greatness.

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I hope everyone has a good week and a great Shabbat.

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