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The Eyes of a Child

The Eyes of a Child

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''Jewish Child'' - painting by chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman
"Jewish Child" - painting by chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman

Do you remember yourself as a child?

Few of us do. Oh, we remember people, events and scenes. Perhaps we recall feelings — our happiness at a birthday party or our terror in some frightening incident. But do we remember the self we were? The manner in which we perceived reality?

When you look at a child today, what do you see? Certainly there is much to admire and make us yearn for our own childhood. We see purity, trust, optimism and a sense of freedom which our tainted, disappointed and burdened older selves can only dream about.

But perhaps the most striking feature of the child is his or her selfishness. A child is the center of the universe. Everyone else — mother, father, teacher, friends, "people" — exist solely to serve him. Everything that exists and anything that happens, exists and happens only insofar as it contributes to (or hinders) her own needs and wishes.

This is one aspect of childhood from which we endeavor to mature. When we encounter a person with such a view of reality, we say of him that "he never grew up" — and we don't mean it endearingly. This is a childishness best left behind in childhood.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, saw the selfishness of the child as an inherently positive thing. He pointed out that the Talmud states that "A person is obligated to say: 'For my sake the world was created'" and that Maimonides writes: "A person should always view himself as perfectly balanced, half good and half evil, and the entire world as balanced between good and evil... so that if he does a single positive deed, he tips the scales for himself, and for the entire world, to the side of good, and brings, to himself and to them, salvation and redemption."

This is a very difficult perspective for an adult to assimilate. A single good deed? At any given moment, there are billions of people, doing billions of deeds, good and evil, pedestrian and profound. And each of these deeds is performed against a history of untold billions of deeds that impose upon it a context and direction. Is it anything but sheer egoism to believe that what I am going to do now will make a difference for the entire world ?

And yet, we do believe that. At least, if we scratch away enough cynicism and despair from the surface of our adult souls, we reach this "childish" belief, which is actually the truest part of ourselves. For this is the self that sees the world as G‑d created it — a world in which a single human deed is given the power to tip the cosmic scales towards salvation and redemption.

A hundred years ago, on the Hebrew date Nissan 11, 5662 (1902), was born a child, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who later became known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A child who remembered, well into his tenth decade, how the world looks from the eyes of a child.

also see:
The Rebbe: 52 Years, 52 Ideas
TheRebbe.org

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Painting by Chassidic artist Zalman Kleinman.
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