“There is such a blessing in the commitment that you and I have for each other.” These were the first words I heard when I turned on the radio this morning. The speaker was Sharon Adams, talking about her relationship with her husband Larry.
But their commitment to each other was only part of the Story Corps broadcast. They were interviewed not merely because they love and support each other, but because they love and support their community, and have spent the past 20 years renovating abandoned homes in their neighborhood.
Sharon’s pairing of love with another person and love for community is the essence of a life well lived. Because we humans are at our best when we appreciate our dual role in caring for ourselves as well as for others.
The Talmudic sage Hillel captured the interplay of self-care and communal care perfectly when he said, “If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14)
We tend to gloss over the first line and stress the second two, because being self-centered is not politically correct. It is far more socially acceptable to be altruistic, to think about others.
But that is impossible. Even people who are kind, compassionate, caring, and giving, have egos. It’s normal. It is, in fact, necessary and healthy. We have to take care of ourselves, think well of ourselves, in order to turn our attention to others.
This week’s Torah portion is unique because it is the only one, after Moses and God meet at the burning bush, in which Moses’ name is not mentioned. It’s the section in which God instructs Moses on how to prepare Aaron and his sons for their consecration as priests. Moses is clearly there; nearly every verse begins with “you shall….” But his name is absent.
I was once taught that it was Aaron’s turn to shine, and this demonstrated Moses’ humility. But I have come to think that it goes much deeper. In this moment, while preparing his brother to take on the enormous task of serving as High Priest, Moses turned his attention to his brother’s needs instead of his own. This is much more than humility. It is commitment to a blessed relationship. Simply put, it is love.
We are, I believe, hardwired for certain things. After the basics – food, water, shelter – we crave to be in relationship. With another person. With a community. With God.
And one of the keys of being in a relationship is the ability to take care of oneself and set aside one’s own needs and desires, to set aside my ego in support of your ego.
Our sages asked an odd question about Moses’ preparations for Aaron’s consecration. They noticed that Moses was instructed to create an elaborate garment for his brother and to perform the first sacrifice that would confer upon Aaron the role of High Priest, who would then performed all the sacrifices.
But, they ask, what did Moses wear when performing that first sacrifice? Not the fabulous priestly garments that he created for Aaron. No, they answered themselves, he wore a plain white shirt. No adornment, no color.
The Kedushat Levi teaches that white can be dyed to take on any color, that in effect it is transparent. And at that moment, so was Moses.
His love for God and his love for Aaron enabled him to become transparent; still present, because he was needed, but not for his own sake. He was there in service to his God, his brother, and his community.
If he had spoken at that moment, I imagine he might have said, “There is such a blessing in the commitment that you and I have for each other.”