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The Significance of Self

By Aaron Tendler

Experience and contrast are the basis for wisdom and understanding. It is our own experiences that allow us to understand the experiences of others. Once we understand what others have experienced we can empathize with them and offer advice. For the most part, that is what we call wisdom.

It is also the meaning of the Golden Rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself." First you must love yourself before you can love someone else. First you must understand and appreciate the circumstances and experiences of your own life before you can understand and appreciate the circumstances and experiences of someone else's life.

Imagine trying to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon or the majestic grandeur of the Rockies without the benefit of having actually seen them. No matter how descriptive the actual or verbal picture might be, it cannot compare to the experience of having seen them with your own eyes.

The Talmud presents the Golden Rule somewhat differently than commonly quoted. Hillel the Elder did not say, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The actual quote is, "That which is hateful to you do not do to your friend." The Talmud's approach is pragmatic rather than theoretical. First and foremost, love means never do to someone what you do not want done to yourself. We each know the pain of having been insulted. We have each experienced the indignity of being "the butt" to someone else's joke. We can each remember what it means to be lonely or ignored. We have all been scarred by not having been properly thanked or appreciated. It did not feel good and it does not feel good. Therefore, do not do the same to anyone else. Do not insult anyone else. Do not make fun of anyone else. Do not ignore or show indifference to anyone else. Always say thank you and express appreciation for what others do for you. That is the Golden Rule. It starts with you and extends outward to embrace others. That is the practical meaning of love.

Are you important? Are you more important than anyone else? Are you more important or less important than your spouse or children? Does G-d consider you to be more important or less important than anyone else?

It makes sense to say that the degree to which you consider anyone else important will be in direct proportion to the degree that you consider yourself important. How else could you understand or appreciate the meaning of importance? It must start with you before it can be extended to anyone else.

The difference between belief in creationism and belief in evolution is purpose. Was the universe created with intent and purpose or was it a cosmic mistake? If you believe in G-d the Creator, then you believe that the universe is part of a Divine plan. If you do not believe in G-d the Creator, then the universe has no purpose beyond that which you want or do.

G-d is often portrayed in our prayers as an artist who intentionally fashioned the universe. The description certainly suggests intent and purpose, so let us examine it a little more closely. When painting a portrait the artist must plan two fundamental dimensions; the actual figure to be painted and the background that will frame the figure. Once the painting is completed, ask the artist which dimension is more important, the figure or the background? The artist must answer that both are equally important; one without the other would compromise the original intent of the portrait and its final production.

Which is more important in a car, the engine or the wheels? We all understand that both are equally important if the vehicle is to accomplish its purpose of conveying us from place to place. One without the other would render the car useless.

Who is more significant in the universe, you or me? Who is more important to G-d, me or you? If G-d is the artist Who created the universe with intent and purpose then I am as essential to the final production as anything and everything else in the universe. In contrast to myself I must extend my own sense of significance to everyone else. They too were intentionally and purposefully created by G-d and included in the universe. They too must be as significant as I am and as important as the rest of creation.

The Golden Rule should be applied to all our relationships: family, friends, business, community, country, and the environment. G-d created each of them; therefore, they are as important to G-d as we are. Imagine a world of respect and appreciation. Imagine a world without waste, abuse, pain, indifference, and loneliness. Imagine a world that begins with ourselves and embraces the entire universe.

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