Solipsism and Its Discontents
We are reading a very exciting parashah this Shabbat. Every parashah is exciting, but Parashat Va’etchanan is particularly replete with some of the most pivotal and foundational tenets of Jewish spirituality. Our parashah includes, amongst other things, the verse of Shma Yisrael, the first paragraph of the Shma, and the Ten Commandments. At another point in our parashah, right before Moses re-articulates the Ten Commandments, Moses makes the following statement in Deuteronomy 5:5:
“אנוכי עומד היום בין ה’ וביניכם”.
This verse literally reads: “I stand today between you and G-d”. On the immediate pshat (contextual) level, Moses is merely reiterating the obvious here. Moses simply reminds the people, right before he recites the Ten Commandments, that he is the holy intermediary, that he is the sacred go-between, bringing G-d’s word and G-d’s message to the people Israel.
The Ba’al Shem Tov (1690-1760), goes deeper than that. This Chassidic master explains that there is much more to this verse than the mere stating of Moses’s role as mediator between G-d and man. The Besht suggests that we read this verse as following:
“I – stand before you and G-d today”.
In Hebrew the word for “I” used in this verse (Anochi), also means “selfish”. In other words, the teaching is that the “anochi”, the “I”, the overly self-involved ego, stands as an obstructing spiritual buffer between us and G-d. The more self-enclosed and self-focused a lifestyle we lead, the less G-dliness and vitality we have. The more we make room, in deed and consciousness, for others – the more inner space we make for G-d’s presence to dwell in our midst. May the “I” never stand between us and G-d.