The Contemplative Way to Get Things Done (Jan 2013)

Earlier today when reading a friend’s Facebook wall, I saw his plea for assistance asking for anyone travelling from USA to Israel to help deliver a medical parcel for a needy friend in Jerusalem. The request was followed by a long line of other friend’s responses saying, “ask Matt in Washington”, “maybe try Hannah in Colorado” etc. Everyone was trying to be helpful in their own way,and hopefully in the end someone making the journey was found. The friends making the suggestions were valuable helpers themselves even though they were (for whatever reason) not able to perform the task of being a messenger themselves.

 But sometimes, in other situations, it occurred to me that in looking for others to “get things done” we might actually just be passing the buck. Sometimes the only way to get something done is by each person doing their own little bit first, no matter how “little” that “bit” might be. By suggesting (or even demanding) that a third party –a person, an organisation, a political party, a presidential candidate, or even an entire government) needs to solve a serious problem—we are often just laying the responsibility for action at anyone’s door but our own.

 In Parashas Va-era, Moshe and Aharon wear away at Pharaoh in trying to get what Yisrael needs. But this dual delegation was not the way it was originally planned. At the Burning Bush, Moshe tried to avoid the task required of him by making excuses—because of this he forfeited the “task of speech” to Aharon.  Moshe lost the privilege of being Israel’s first High Priest—a role which was given to Aharon instead. From this point in humanly-reckoned time onwards, the idea of a dual leadership (Zugos) becomes a recurrent theme to be developed in both Jewish politics and religion.

 It’s hard to know when we should defer a task to others and when we should take on an often daunting responsibility ourselves. When we decline to do something ourselves, it may well be because we have been granted the humility and discernment to accept that we are simply not qualified or capable enough.  But when it comes to davening and hisbodedus (personal liturgical and contemplative prayer), one does not have to be a genius scholar, a gifted public speaker, an operatic cantor, or an intellectual giant in philosophical contemplation. The qualification for each of these sacred tasks is sincerity in one’s desire to be close to G-d and to serve Him. We can all be offered that task and we can all be given the means to achieve it cum laude.

 The Contemplative way to “get things done” is very much a “Do It Yourself” process, though paradoxically it is always done in union with the whole Jewish community no matter how geo-physically isolated or wrapped in solitude the Jewish contemplative might be.  Though we all need Teachers and Guides in the religious and spiritual life— one cannot be taught “how to be a contemplative".  The only way to be a contemplative is to get on and do it.

 Nobody can fulfil the halakhic obligations of another, but in the observance of the mitzvos—and especially in the act of prayer—each of us is functioning as a part of the one “People” of Israel. Our individual prayer on behalf of Am Yisroel or its individual members can never be “passed over” or “passed on” to someone else. It really is our individual though shared responsibility. Each of us is not just a part of that People, each of us is an essential Microcosmos of it.

When someone requests our prayers for a cause or asks us to daven for a particular person, and when we stand in deepest liturgical prayer  and beg for the union of The Name: We should stand where Moshe stood, but make sure that this time round, we “do the task” and “say the words” ourselves.

 In this we can all be like High Priests. “Moshe” and “Aharon” can be active in us simultaneously. Each one of us is then equally qualified to bend the ear of the One who is not a mere Pharaoh in Egypt, but who is the Ribono Shel Olam

Paradoxically, though the contemplative method is to “Do it Oneself”, it will not be long before we realise that it is He alone who “gets things done”.

January 10 2013