Some years ago, I found myself behind a car with the license plate proclaiming “INIT 4ME”. Now, this was not a luxury car and maybe the type of car was actually beside the point, but I was taken aback by the conceit of this statement. I thought, how arrogant, how sad, how unfulfilled, not to mention boring, is a life all about oneself.
What does Judaism, and, more specifically, the Torah, have to say about this? In Leviticus, we learn of the “golden rule” – “Love your neighbor as yourself”. In fact, Leviticus talks about leading a life of holiness – not just in terms of our relationship with God, but with each other. We are not expected to be saintly or holy all of the time. We are allowed to make mistakes, even say stupid things from time to time, but, we should walk away from these incidences having learned something that makes us a better person. Many of the Ten Commandments deal with our treatment of others.
In Deuteronomy, we are told, “Open your hand to your brother, to the poor and to the needy.” Maimonides defines nine levels in giving charity, the lowest being donations given grudgingly to the highest, giving assistance to someone to help them become self supporting. A famous quote from Hillel asks us to consider others in all we do. (“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”) The “self” is important, but only in relation to others.
We can live a life more full, we can feel better about ourselves, we can make a difference in someone else’s life if we are not just “INIT4ME”. From small gestures like a weekly tzedakah donation, to spending time helping another better themselves, we can live a life full of promise and importance. Mitzvah projects shouldn’t be limited to the time around Bar/Bat mitzvah, nor do they have to be child-centered, but should be something which occurs regularly, something that is a part of everyday living. Sometimes, we feel more fulfilled when we turn our thinking from how everyone else affects us to how we can affect those around us.
Wishing you all a peaceful and fulfilled Chanukah.