Torah teaches that one is not the center of the universe


In an interview with fourth grade religious school students, I was asked how it was that I decided to become a rabbi. Did I always want to be a rabbi? I told them, “no.” Originally, I wanted to be a landscape architect. And I worked hard in achieving that goal. That is until I encountered physics and trigonometry. And then the power of clear recognition revealed to me that when my children need help with physics and trigonometry, I will hire a tutor. I concluded my answer to the fourth grade class by telling them the series of events that led me to the rabbinate, and that after quite a long time, I came to believe being a rabbi was what I was meant to do.

It is frightening when we recognize that our assumptions about ourselves are wrong. But in the midst of that fear, and in the process of moving through it, we discover the stuff we are made of that was there all along.

When we clearly recognize that we are not the center of the universe, it can be an unsettling experience. This is the fear and trembling we most often feel in the intimate relationships in our lives. Sometimes the needs of the other come first. For those who have experienced them, I need only say two words — marriage and parenthood — and you understand what it means not to be the center of the universe.

When we clearly recognize the ambiguity and unpredictability of the future, we find ourselves a bit unsettled. Will my new business venture succeed? Will I be able to retire comfortably? Will my children live healthy lives? Will I live a long life; another day? Living life with ambiguity can be frightening.

Jacob is gripped by fear as he approaches his brother Esau after 20 years of separation. He knows that his wealth, property and prestige will not protect him against a vengeful brother come to settle a debt. Jacob is overwhelmed with a sense of his own reality. He sees a past filled with deceit, denial, insensitivity and fraud. He sees a life blinded by ambition that has isolated him from those closest to him. Clearly recognizing the cost of his past mistakes, and clearly recognizing that his future, or potential future, may be compromised, Jacob agonizes sleepless on the banks of the Yabuk River.

During the night Jacob struggles with a being, unnamed and undefined, and despite its elusiveness Jacob prevails and is blessed. For the first time in his life, Jacob has prevailed honestly and fairly. He has been as the text suggests: Redeemed. This could be the case for all of us if we have the courage to clearly recognize what is real in our lives; not what we do for a living, or what we possess, but simply who we are with our cracks, our flaws and our imperfections. If we are able to accept a worldview that doesn’t put us at the center then perhaps we, too, can experience redemption.

Rabbi Joshua Taub, of Temple Emanuel, is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.