Thursday, March 15, 2012
Living Like the Angels
There is an interesting phrase recited every day during Shacharit which describes how the angels conduct their praise of God: "Notenim Reshut Zeh La'Zeh" - they grant permission to one another to serve God in their own unique way. During the angels' heavenly service, there is no room for conflict just because individual angels serve God differently. In fact, in order for the Heavens to function properly, each angel must be themselves. Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu contrasts this kind of behavior with that of human beings. Whereas people strive to outdo each other for selfish reasons, the angels encourage each other to utilize their abilities to serve God. As a result, there is peace and harmony.
Despite the fact that human beings have free will and angels do not, we can still learn a great deal from their behavior. Like the angels, it's important to acknowledge that there is more than one way to serve God. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, teacher or rabbi, businessman or stay-at-home mom, there is a place for all of us among the Jewish people. For example, each one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel carried out different tasks. Some engaged in commerce or working the fields, others in religious study, and yet others in military or temple service - and all were essential to the survival of the nation as a whole. Quite frankly, we're not all supposed to be doing the same kind of work or serving God the exact same way.
The Chofetz Chaim was once approached by a successful businessman who decided to scale down his business so that he could dedicate himself to Torah study. The Chofetz Chaim explained why his decision was wrong by way of a parable. During wartime, if a soldier unilaterally decides to leave his current post to fight in a different capacity, he will be court-martialed. A soldier must obey orders and man the position to which he was assigned. The Chofetz Chaim went on to say that this businessman's responsibility was to support Jewish institutions and the poor. If he decided to go through with ending his business success, he would be jeopardizing the position God gave him within the Jewish community.
We have to give fellow Jews the space to become the individuals God intended them to be. Otherwise, we will be contributing to unnecessary tension and divisiveness. Our mission in life can't be to turn everyone into replicas of ourselves. Trying to influence others through the battlefield of ideas is one thing; forcing others to abide by our personal ways is another. If you want to be something, go for it - just don't force it upon someone else. Remember, those differences ultimately constitute the entirety of our people. Our strength can be found via our uniqueness as individuals.
In the final analysis, interpersonal conduct is a two-way street. We always want others to be understanding of us, but that same courtesy must be granted to others. As long as someone is not objectively evil (i.e. their actions deliberately harm other people), we must do our best to let them be. Obviously, it's difficult to tolerate all the differences that exist between Jews and fulfill the concept of "Notenim Reshut Zeh La'Zeh," but there's a compelling reason to do so. When we act a bit more like the angels, we create a slice of Heaven here on Earth.