Attaining a Mindset of Depth in a Shallow World
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
I. The Problem
As the modern world spins faster and faster into the future, the physicality in our lives only gets more and more advanced. In response,the world is witnessing a huge paradigm shift, with shallow definitions of fulfillment placed at the top of our priorities. Research at UCLA has uncovered radical change in the ideals of the average student in the last half-century. The importance placed on material wealth by college students has risen astronomically. In 2005, 75 percent of freshmen claimed that being affluent was very important to them, an alarming increase compared to the 42 percent of 1966. As a parallel phenomenon, the search for deep meaning has plummeted. In 1966, 86 percent of college freshmen were motivated by a quest fora meaningful life philosophy;today the percentage has dropped to less than 50 percent. 1
The importance that the modern world places on materialism is taking a toll on our generation’s ideals. We are being taught to treasure the shallow exterior of the world and to ignore the meaningful depth contained within; but without a life of meaning, we lose our happiness. Among many other issues, we struggle with extreme anxiety, a refusal to trust that life is directed by a greater Power, and an inability to open up to others that look different than ourselves. Thankfully, Chassidus gives us the tools to deal with the shallow values we absorb from society. To understand how it does so, we will explore the Chassidic concept of chitzonius and pnimiyus. This will provide us with the process of looking beyond the surface of our world and finding the depth contained within. Then, by understanding the depth within our world, we can tackle the issues that were previously insurmountable.
II. Find the Depth
The Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, lay on his deathbed. The tears leaked out of his grandson’s eyes as he sat there in awe of both his grandfather and the impending loss. The Rebbe shakily turned to his grandson,“Do you see that beam up there, in the ceiling? You may see it, but I do not. All I can see is the G-dly energy inside of it that is its true life.” 2 Our world is much more than it seems. While we see the colorful exterior of every inch, we often miss the layers of meaning within it all. However, Chassidus assures us that we can find G-d if we look hard enough, and then we can make Him the priority of every day.
Achas Sha’alti Eter, a Chassidic discourse of the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, provides a clear, foolproof method of looking beyond our physical lives to discover true depth. 3 The process starts with considering all of the objects encountered daily. With enough observation,we can realize that there are two facets of each creation: its exterior and its interior. Every single thing around us contains energy that gives it life; without it, the thing would be dead. Physical objects are essentially lifeless, and they live only by virtue of the energy enclosed within them. These two facets are not just dual aspects of creation; rather one is totally primary to the other. Internal vitality is much more important than its casings. Between our body and our soul, our soul is much greater, because without it the body would be nothing more than an inanimate arrangement of skin, blood, and bone. As years pass, the body gradually declines,while at the same time the soul only gets stronger and stronger. The same applies to every detail of creation: its life is exclusively due to the spiritual energy that enters into it to enliven it.
III. Trace It Back to G-d
When the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a child, he was greatly skilled at carving wood. One night, one of his father’s chassidim sat down next to him. “Listen 4 up, Shmuel,” he said. “If you can tell me where G-d is, I’ll give you this knife of mine.” The young Rebbe Maharash looked up. “And I’ll give you mine if you can tell me where He isn’t!” Outsmarted, the chossid pulled his knife out of his pocket and handed it to the boy. 5 The Rebbe Maharash intuitively sensed the truth that we are all searching for. Namely, G-d is present everywhere. But how can people like us reach a similar sense of depth and spiritual awareness?
To answer this question, we can take our previous exploration even deeper. After pinpointing the soul of the universe, we can proceed to realize that even the energy itself must have a source from where it descends. Each spark of vitality in this world can be traced back through an infinite process of development before it finally becomes the object we see today. In other words, the internal energy of our world is really just the exterior of something even deeper. If we think deeply enough, we can trace everything back to the first step of creation, when G-d spoke in order to create the world. This primordial speech of G-d is called Malchus D’Atzilus and is the influence of G-d that reaches everywhere. Likewise, Avraham Avinu was the first person to follow this train of logic to track G-d’s creations back to Him,and in this way he achieved his revolutionary recognition of the One G-d. He looked around at his world – the sun,the moon,the stars- and reasoned that each one must have a boss that it answers to. In this way, he found G-d, and in this way,we can find G-d just as the Rebbe Maharash did as a boy. 6
This discovery completely changes our perspective on the world. Everything physical shifts from having primary importance to being merely a container for the G-dliness hidden within. When we can find G-d’s influence inside of everything, physicality loses its hold on our lives. From the money I just made,to the next object I’m planning to buy,to the success I’ve set my eyes on, it all is false once I realize that G-dis within, if only I look a little deeper. No longer will I continue to obsess about shallow trivialities if instead I can work to reveal the G-dliness that is all around me.
IV. A Practical Solution for Love, Joy, and Trust
When we prioritize things according to their spiritual interior rather than their physical exterior, we can solve many of the challenges we face daily, including sadness, loneliness, distrust, and conflict. When we take things at face value, we begin to believe that our lives are run by chance and that we are alone in our individual battles. However,once we adopt a mindset of connecting to a deeper reality, we realize that G-d is present, and we are not alone. The Rebbe writes that every single Jew is literally found in the palace of G-d, a 7 benevolent King who ensures that His subjects are always provided for. He therefore has nothing to fear, just like any man would not conceive of being afraid while in the home of his king. This abolishes feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and unlocks the possibility for great joy.
Armed with this perspective, a Jew can begin the intensive process of achieving trust in G-d. The Rebbe explains that to trust in G-d is to throw our burdens entirely on His shoulders with confidence that He will provide us with only good. This belief should become so deep-seated that we reach a complete peace of mind when faced with our fears. As a reciprocation of this attitude, G-d actualizes our hopes by giving us goodness that we wish for. 8 A famous story of the Frierdiker Rebbe brings this to life. While the Frierdiker Rebbe 9 was imprisoned in a torturous Soviet prison, a soldier pointed a pistol at his chest and demanded, “Stop spreading Judaism or meet your end!” The Rebbe stared back at him completely calm.“That toy has frightened many men into submission. But those are men of one world and many gods. I am a Jew, so I have one G-d and two worlds. If I leave this world, I still have one to come, so your toy cannot scare me.” The soldier lowered his gun, and the Rebbe was saved. He could not be intimidated because he knew that the true reality of the world is its G-dly dimension. By perceiving this, he was able to rely completely on G-d’s assistance. As a result, his trust was fulfilled.
As humans, another issue we grapple with is finding the depth within every person. The people with whom we interact daily are often profoundly different than we are. So how can we connect to people with whom we seem to have nothing in common? The Alter Rebbe uses the above strategy in the method he outlines for attaining love of another . We must view the body as completely worthless compared to the eternal soul, 10 leading us to see through our superficial differences straight to the soul. We then discover that on a soul level, all Jews stem from the exact same place. This enables us to see how united we truly are and create deep connections with each other.
The Rebbe’s every action expressed this profound worldview. On one occasion, the Rebbe had been standing for hours distributing dollar bills to the thousands of people that passed by. Having witnessed this, one woman could not hold herself back. “Rebbe, I don’t understand,” she asked. “How can you stand on your feet for hours on end,giving dollars to all of these people? Don’t you run out of strength?” The Rebbe looked her in the eyes with a smile on his face. “When you are counting diamonds, you can never get tired.” 11
The perspective we have developed is truly attainable by every person. It is a process with a series of important steps:
1. Realize that every creation has two facets: its exterior and its deeper element.
2. After contemplating the world around you, conclude that the importance lies not in the external shell of the world, but rather in the depth within, just like the soul is of paramount importance compared to the body.
3. This depth you have found is not the end. It has many layers inside of it, each of more powerful truth than the next. Eventually, everything can be traced all the way back to G-d’s Word, which is the ultimate truth.
4. Find this truth in the world around you. Integrate it into your psyche so that now, the corporeal dimension of things is utterly trivial compared to the depth you seek in everything. You will shift from valuing materialism to valuing authenticity.
5. Apply this perspective to other areas as well. Recognize that G-d accompanies you throughout your whole life, so you have nothing to fear. Use your skill to find depth in the people around you and discover how easy it becomes to relate to others.
The Worldwide Impact
As my peers and I continue to grow, it is my hope that UCLA’s statistics will show a sharp turn towards a universal quest for profound meaning.Then no longer will this world be full of the hollow screams we have become accustomed to. Instead, next year’s college freshmen will seek to find the G-dliness in everything.They will extend their new perspective even further, so it will influence their priorities, their attitudes, and their interactions with others. With such a catalyst, our entire society will shift from a lifestyle of shallowness,discontent,and conflict to an outlook of depth and unity with which we will welcome Moshiach.
Sources and Footnotes
1 “The Streamlined Life,” David Brooks, The New York Times. May 5, 2014. www.nytimes.com
2 GPS for the Soul, Rabbi Nadav Cohen, trans. Rabbi Zalman Nelson, HaChish Printing, 2014. Page 145.
3 Ma’amar “Achas Sha’alti” of the year 5760 (Eter), Sefer HaMaamarim 5760, Lubavitch. Page 24 and on.
4 The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe.
5 GPS for the Soul, see above. Page 141.
6 “The Life of Our Forefather Abraham,” Jacob Isaacs, Chabad.org
7 Beis Nissan, 5718. Otzer Igros Kodesh, page 195, Kehos.
8 Otherwise known as, “revealed good.” Likkutei Sichos Volume 36, Sicha Alef of Shemos, pp. 1-6
9 “Rabbi Joseph Yitzchok Schneerson,” Nissan Mindel, Chabad.org
10 Chapter 32 of Tanya
11 To Know and to Care Vol. 1, Chapter 9, Story 6.