I am fortunate to live in a community where everyone is committed to taking care of everyone else. Really. Whether it’s for a new baby or a brit milah, or, G‑d forbid, a sad occasion, everyone pitches in for one another—even if it’s only in a small way—to make lifecycle events smoother for everyone.

Facilitating this process is the e‑mail everyone gets containing the ubiquitous spreadsheet, asking people to sign up to help make food for the particular family that needs it.

KnowingI try to sign up whenever possible that it’s a nice thing to do, I try to sign up whenever possible, regardless of who the family is. I’ve also learned the importance of getting through this process as quickly as possible, without taking time to review the spreadsheet. It’s really not my business who signed up to make what, or why the family doesn’t eat wheat.

But then I start deliberating. A commitment to do for others can feel like an unnecessary responsibility. If I don’t make the gefilte fish, someone else surely will. What if there’s another crazy snowstorm, and I can’t get to the store? Come on now. I have gefilte fish in my freezer. I can do this. Be nice. Just sign up for the fish!

Classic approach-avoidance conflict.

But I know I want to sign up, so I start to do it. I type in my name next to gefilte fish. It really is just the idea of doing something for someone else. Then, just as I’m ready to hit “submit,” that little voice makes one last attempt, and if I don’t hit it fast, the voice tries its favorite line: Why are you doing this for them?

But I know that voice is the yetzer hara (my friendly little ego that loves me to a fault), but because I have heard it so many times when I try to do something nice for someone else, I recognize it and ignore it.

And I hit “submit.” As I do, I feel a slight thrill of victory, and I slowly exhale. I’m on the spreadsheet, so I’m committed even if there’s a snowstorm, even if I discover there’s no gefilte fish in my freezer.

Many years ago, I learned about the quality of bittul, which usually translates into words like “self-nullification,” “self-abnegation,” “humility”—words that didn’t even sound very Jewish to my untrained ear. I was wise to recognize that this was the jewel in the Jewish crown, exactly what we strive to attain, but foolish to think it was easy to do.

After all, I love my “I,” or at least part of it. I still contend that if I hadn’t had so much awareness of myself and my lack of spiritual fulfillment, I would never have agreed to hit “submit” and undergo such a drastic lifestyle change. I would have been happy enough, but I wasn’t. It was a very big “I,” and it needed more.

So this extremely-preoccupied-with-itself “I” understood that the only way to find true happiness (my inalienable right, right?) was to keep Torah and mitzvahs.

Fair enough. Then I’ll be happy?

Uh, not quite. I started hearing that it wasn’t just about doing, it was also about being.

All the doing is supposed to change the being, so that our existence is aware of itself (I got that part), yet completely bound up with its Creator in each and every aspect of that existence. (What?)

Wait a second. I’m supposed to try to totally self-transcend so that everything I am, have or desire is only for G‑d? This is much harder for an “I” like mine to do.

ButWe have the ability to be unlimited it’s my divine mission nonetheless. And G‑d does not ask more of us than we are able to do. Just as He is unlimited, we have the ability to be unlimited. We can be everything and nothing, and something in between, all at the same time. Every day we have to hit “submit,” and we’re on our way to loving what He loves (anyone need gefilte fish?) and loathing what He loathes (the feeling of separateness from Him, right down to the gefilte fish).

Chassidic wisdom teaches that we should all live as if we carry two pieces of paper, one in each pocket. On one paper should be written, “I am nothing but ashes and dust,” and on the other, “The whole world was created for me.” Both of these sayings are correct. The key to true happiness is to master the understanding of when to pull out which paper.

I’m still working on it, and very happy about that.