Updated: Jul 5, 2019
Perspective is what I'm talking about here.
It took me five decades to figure out that human beings (and in particular me) are not the center of the universe. A New York City upbringing doesn't help that particular delusion! What I've seen of Alaska does help one get a grip though on reality. Like King Dawid (David) said in Sefer Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 8,
When I behold Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
the moon and the stars, which Thou hast established; What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him?
My friend Dr. McAnally has asked me to write a series on the attributes of G-d, and how meditating on His character and Person have helped generations of my people (I am a Jew) through all kinds of hardship, pain, persecution and suffering - even genocide, time and time again.
I've decided to talk about three aspects of G-d over three separate posts; in this first part, what better place to start than considering His Gedullah, or Greatness. Again, as King Dawid says in Divrei Hayyamim Aleph (1 Chronicles) 29:11,
Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty;
for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD,
and Thou art exalted as Head above all.
And in Sefer Tehillim Chapter 145,
Great is YHWH, and greatly to be praised!
And His greatness is unsearchable.
I was taught as a child that G-d is the most important Being in the universe: eternal, Creator of all things, and Sustainer of all things. Even a child can grasp those truths. But children nonetheless view the world through a self-centric lens, and I certainly did well into adulthood. Still do, to a large extent. And I know I'm not alone in that.
That's one of the reasons we recite Pesukei d’Zimra ('verses of praise') every morning before we even think about praying to G-d. We need daily reminding that while our needs and wants may seem all-important to us, or our struggles and concerns perhaps overwhelming, we are not the center of the world. We need re-orientation. We need proper perspective.
What's this got to do with pain?
In my observations (and personal experience!) pain is one of the biggest challenges to keeping oriented to our place - and G-d's - in the order of things. Pain, if severe (or chronic) enough can eclipse everything, throwing us into darkness and confusion. Speaking of, eclipses are all about perspective as well. Did you know that the sun is something like 76 million times larger than the moon? And yet that little chunk of rock orbiting around the earth appears to cover the sun... Perspective.
Our species' collective and historic perspective of pain hasn't exactly been aligned with a twentieth/twenty-first century American one. Dr. McAnally tells me that seeing pain as a problem to be diagnosed and treated - eliminated if we're so fortunate - is a new thing. What I've read of the Greek and Roman classics supports that thesis; at least in their writings, those proud cultures viewed pain (and all hardship) as something to be endured and overcome. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam - what little I know of them - also see pain and suffering as inevitable, to be accepted, divine decree.
In the Jewish and Christian faiths, we've generally seen pain as trial and test, sometimes punishment but always discipline.
I'm not saying we shouldn't avail ourselves of the means G-d has provided for us to relieve pain and suffering, within His will. What I am saying is that allowing either pain or pleasure to eclipse our view of the Blessed One and our alignment with His will is irreverent, harsh as that may sound.
Maintaining a proper perspective of G-d's Greatness (and His other attributes, discussed later) isn't easy in the face of suffering. Then again, it's not 'default mode' for most of us in ease and comfort either - we so quickly lose sight and turn from Him when things are going well. My people have demonstrated that time and time again throughout our history. G-d sent oppressors, generation after generation to turn us back to Him when we forsook Him. Perhaps pain is the best way to refocus our attention on the Almighty, His Greatness and His Kingdom.
Excellence in a sport or musical instrument requires continual practice when 'the heat isn't on'; when the eyes of hundreds or thousands aren't upon us and we feel the pressure of a championship game or a concert. In the same manner, maintaining our perspective of G-d Most High, King of the Universe in times of pain and trial works best when we've laid the groundwork through practice and training, over and over again.
And so in closing, I'd like to share the following verses from Baruch She'amar that open our daily morning meditation. Offering these (and other) praises to G-d, the Great Center of, and most important Being in the universe reorients us every day to the Reality of Who He is, and correspondingly the proper place of subjection we and our needs and wishes occupy. May they guide you every morning into alignment with Heaven and earth's great perspective.
Blessed is He Who spoke, and the world came into being - blessed is He.
Blessed is He Who creates the universe.
Blessed is He Who speaks and acts.
Blessed is He Who decrees and fulfills.
Blessed is He Who shows compassion to the earth.
Blessed is He Who shows compassion to all creatures.
Blessed is He Who gives a good reward to those who fear Him.
Blessed is He Who lives forever and exists to eternity.
Blessed is He Who redeems and saves.
Blessed is His Name.
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