Yesterday one o’clock in the morning found me dragging my feet up twelve flights of stairs to my dorm room after an intense workout. As I progressed, I reflected on how unpleasing I probably was to all five senses, and silently prayed that I would not cross paths with anyone on my way up. But seeing as G‑d likes a good laugh as much as anyone, I met a girl who was sitting in the stairwell.
I stared at her intently as I drew closer and waited to see how she would react. Suddenly, the girl looked up, noticed my gaze, and put her hand up to her cheek, “I know, my face is really dirty, isn’t it?”
I silently prayed that I would not cross paths with anyoneYes, that is a true story.
Present company excluded, people tend to focus on themselves, don’t they? I mean, how can one expect otherwise? Is it really fair to ask me to be selfless and to think of others? We are intimately tied to our own experiences, our subjective perceptions of what occurs around us, our interactions with others.
Sometimes it strikes me, when I am traveling in an airport, that everyone in that airport has a totally individual life in which I don’t even exist. And yet, it is perfectly logical that I am so wrapped up in my own life.
Additionally, I am told to believe that “the whole world was created for me” (Sanhedrin 4:5). If the whole world was created for me, it makes sense that I should be self-centered! Tanya (ch. 41) describes the meditation necessary to bring a fear of heaven. Paraphrased: “One should contemplate how G‑d fills and transcends all the worlds, but he specifically chooses to be a King over you. Proof? Each person must say ‘for my sake, the whole world was created.’”
At first glance, it appears that this meditation would serve only to feed my ego.
According to psychology (Elkind), there are four stages of egocentrism. Foremost is Adolescent Egocentrism, which is when a teen (or the teen inside of you) has an imaginary audience and lives with a personal fable. Meaning: he believes that he is utterly “special” and “unique” in his experiences and feelings, and as a result, he imagines an audience scrutinizing him wherever he goes.
This seems to be fitting with what Tanya says. G‑d created the world for me, so everyone else is created for me too!
But, ironically, when it comes to the job of fixing up the world and making it into a better place, most people show their humble side. “I’ll let someone else do the work.”
However, if the whole world is yours, the problems in it are also up to you to fix.
Maimonides writes, “In order for the Holy Temple to be built, every single Jew must partake in the building.” But what difference will it make if one person does not throw in a brick? To the guy walking through the airport, it would not matter, but to G‑d and the entire fiber of creation, it makes all the difference in the world. The Holy Temple needs you.
It’s true, you are the center of the worldAnd this is why Adolescent Egocentrism is actually a good thing. It’s true, you are the center of the world. That for some reason, G‑d leaves his high and holy realms to create you. That as much as everyone is part of a divine mosaic in the plan of the world, you are not just another dab of paint on a portrait. You are the most essential part of the painting. To G‑d, the whole world was created for you.
So go ahead . . . continue thinking that everyone is looking at that spot on your face. Because you are important, and G‑d’s kingship is on you individually. But that also means that you’ve got a lot to accomplish.