Chabad Jewish Center of Longmont and tonight's class pretty much blew me away. In the class, we're studying six figures in Jewish history, starting with Hillel and moving through quite a few people I've never heard of, despite a lifetime of study and engagement in my tradition. Hillel is well known to all, as are his examples of humility and equanimity, not to mention this quote: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me. And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" Despite this quote being so much of my growing up, attending Jewish summer camps, hearing these words now, at this time in my life, blew my mind. Hillel's personal history and struggle with the balance between humility and his own sense of his large capacity, is one that I can identify with in my own small way.
Tonight I learned about a man I'd never heard of before, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, a working man, who left the world of commerce to begin a lifelong devotion to study at the age of 40 and then appointed to take over from Hillel upon his death. It was suggested he was 55 when this responsibility was bestowed upon him and what did he do? He split town and headed to Galilee to take the Torah to farmers and laborers, not because he was shirking responsibility, but because he felt wanted to convey what he'd learned to the people, continuing Hillel's tradition of openness and accessibility. His sense of lineage, prophetic awareness and then the courage to act in unison with those two elements, struck me as very meaningful and in a very specific way.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, like Hillel, and I suspect like the rest of the figures we'll be studying for the next month, share something I'd like to bring into my life and in particular, into this chapter. Both of them acted with a unity of purpose and action and with a remarkable lack of the 'personal.' And this is a very powerful reminder for me that no matter how personalized my situation might seem to be, to be able to pull back long enough to remember that my situation is just one of many, important, but not more so than the rest.
I'm chewing on this idea, that one could be so engaged in the living of a purposeful and mission-based life that pausing to reflect on my spiritual or personal progress would not be a part of the process, or at the very least, an after thought. Hmm...this flies in the face of two generations of self-focused pursuits, the time in which I've grown up and pursued my interests, whims and have informed my career choices.
Wonder what it would be like to flip the coin, but to still keep Hillel's words and Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai's prophetic awareness at the center? I think that is what I'm working toward.
Tonight is my tenth night of writing this series, "Water Flows Underground." Today is a good day and I'm grateful for the experience and the comments, as well as the lessons I'm learning. Heading to bed early tonight and taking a deep breath to move into day 11 and beyond.