Both my father and my father-in-law were so happy a few years ago when my son started getting into playing sports like baseball and soccer. I have no interest in sports (except for when my son is playing, of course), so I think they were relieved that I hadn’t passed on my apathy for the “game”.
“There’s no ‘I’ in team,” my father-in-law would say. He was pointing out the importance of teamwork for building a spirit of connectedness and an ability to work well with others.
And yet, it’s funny- while team sports are clearly all about people working together, the news media doesn’t seem to emphasize that side of it at all. As an experiment, I googled “sports news” and clicked on ESPN. A huge list of headlines came up for the latest news stories.
Was there even one headline about how a team worked together?
Not one. In fact, EVERY single story was about an individual- Byron Maxwell, Frank Gore, Brandon Flowers, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson- the list went on and on (all people I’ve never heard of).
Despite the fact that the true story in any team sport emerges from the interaction between players, we seem to paint the story in terms of individuals. We love heroes. We love to point to the guy that’s the best, even though that guy would be nothing without the work of teammates.
If you’ve ever given a complement to a religious Jew, or asked, “how are you doing?” you’ve probably heard the response, “thank G-d” or “Barukh Hashem”. This convention in the religious world is meant to downplay the focus on the individual and instead focus on the Whole. When a person says, “thank G-d”, it also means, “thank everything” and “thank everyone”, since nothing is believed to be separate from G-d. The religious person acknowledges: “I am not the cause, I am the effect. I am a tiny phenomenon in an Infinite Ocean of happening. The Infinite is responsible, not me.”
Why so much linguistic effort to downplay the individual “I”? The Maggid of Zlotchov1 taught on a verse2 in which Moses is recounting the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Moses says, “Anokhi omed bein Hashem uveineikhem- I stood between the Divine and you”.
The Maggid interpreted like this- “The ‘I’ stands between G-d and us. When you say ‘I’, a wall stands between you and G-d. But for one who offers the ‘I’- there is no barrier. And this is what the words in the Song of Songs are referring to- ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me’- when my ‘I’ has become my beloved’s, then it is toward me that His desire turns.”
The “Beloved” is nothing other than total Reality; everything is G-d. Each time you remember that everything is G-d, you are instantly and effortlessly reunited with the Beloved. It’s not that G-d has gone anywhere- there is nothing but G-d, only you have become used to It. It’s like walking with a lover, hand in hand. At first, you are on fire with love. But, if you keep walking, at some point you start to think about something else. Eventually you wouldn’t even notice that you are holding hands. To be reunited, in such a case, is to become aware of what is already present.
In the opening verses of this week’s reading, Moses instructs the people of Israel3: “Sheishet yamim te’aseh melakha- six days shall work be done”. It doesn’t say, “six days you shall work (ta’ase),” but rather “six days work shall be done (te’ase).” The passive form suggests that a person should not identify with the work4; there should be no sense of “I am doing this work”.
It then says “… uvayom hashvi’i yiyeh lakhem kodesh, Shabbat Shabbaton- on the seventh day it should be a holy day, a Sabbath of Sabbaths . . .”
It doesn’t say there should be a Sabbath among the workdays, but a Sabbath among Sabbaths! Meaning, even the workdays should be Sabbaths, in a sense. Work is being done, but there should be no sense of a “me ” doing the work. There is only the One doer, and the One includes all the different beings doing their different jobs. That’s why one of the Divine Names is Elokim, which is a plural word, meaning “powers”. G-d is the many in the One. G-d is the team!
This also explains the deeper meaning of a quite disturbing part of the verse:
“…Shabbat Shabbaton Lashem, kol ha’oseh vo melakha yumat- A Shabbat of Shabbats to the Divine- all who work on it shall die!”
On the surface it seems to be saying that if a person does work on Shabbat they will die or be executed. But there is a different way to read the verse- not “whoever does work on it shall die”, but rather, “whoever does work, on it shall die.”
In other words, the “doer” of work during the week- the “I” that thinks it is the doer- should “die” on Shabbat. If you can put yourself to death as the “doer” on Shabbat, this opens the possibility to disidentify with the “doer” on weekdays as well. Then all of life is Shabbat. That is liberation.
Say “Barukh Hashem” frequently, even just mentally. Every time you do anything, remind yourself- your strength is a gift. Your intelligence is a gift. Even the desire to do anything at all is a gift. It all comes from Beyond. Everything comes into being through an infinite string of efforts from an assembly of countless beings.
And yet, there is only one person who can command this awareness for you, and that is you! That’s the paradox- you must be the hero, like Moses, assembling the entire assembly of Being before your mind in each moment- “Vayakhel Moshe et kol adat- and Moses assembled the entire assembly4…”
May this Shabbos be a Shabbat Shabbaton; may we all surrender our “I” to the “Beloved” and know the One who is both Doer and Doing, both One and Many. May this realization spill over into all moments and may the world be swiftly healed from the abuses and distortions caused by the endlessly hungry “me”. May true peace come now! Amein!
1. The Maggid of Zlotchov was the 18th century Hassidic master Rabbi Yekhiel Mikhel
2. Deut. 5:5
3. Ex. 35:2
5. From the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Shneerson
4. Ex. 35:1