I was walking home from work one day this past spring, engrossed in my thoughts. What did I accomplish today at work? Which projects have looming deadlines? Which tasks await me now at home? Is there enough money in the bank to cover this month's tuition checks? The weight of my world on my shoulders.

Now that's pretty much routine for my daily walk home from work. But on that particular day, something un-routine happened. Mid-thought, I looked up. In front of me walked an old man, leaning on his cane. Behind me walked two teenage girls. On the other side of the street a mother strolled a carriage, a businessman was shouting into his cell phone, and a beggar was crying for alms. The street was a beehive of activity — as it always is at 5 p.m. in Brooklyn, NY.

Not one of them cares about all the pressing matters that are on my mindAnd the thought then occurred to me: Not one of them could care less about all the urgently pressing matters that are on my mind. And the same is true in reverse. Every one of them has their own list of worries and concerns, but one man's load is more than enough to occupy me.

It's as if each of us walks around in a figurative bubble. We say hi and exchange pleasantries, but remain firmly entrenched in our little bubble. I share a street with hundreds of others, but in my consciousness, only I and my worries exist.

Millions of Grocery Stores Opened

This bubble is a tinted one. It colors everything I see or hear with a distinctive and totally unique hue.

A new grocery recently opened a block away from my home. Is that a positive development or not?

The neighborhood community board is trumpeting the new establishment as an indicator of real growth. The homeowners closest to the store have mixed feelings: traffic has increased and finding a parking spot is now more difficult, but the convenience is undeniable. The people living just a bit further down the block are very happy, they can now send their kids to the store every time they run out of eggs. The owner of the grocery two blocks away is very concerned about his new competitor. Needless to say, the owner of the new grocery and all his employees are delighted. The block's sanitation workers... The grocery suppliers...

So back to the question: Is it a positive development or not? That depends whose bubble you're viewing it from. In the world of perception, this grocery opened not once, but as many times as people who became aware of this happening.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why our sages tell us (Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a) that sustaining one life is comparable to saving a world. Because each person really is a world unto his or her own. In potential, every event occurs some six billion times, experienced uniquely by every person who becomes aware of the happening. In a sense, we don't share a world; we each have our own.

As King Solomon said (Ecclesiastes 3:11), "Also the world He put into their hearts..."

The Bubble's Escape Hatch

In potential, every event occurs some six billion timesThis bubble, though, has an escape hatch. The human mind has the ability to escape his or her personal enclosure and peer into another's. Unlike the heart — the seat of emotion, ego and passion; the human "default" mode — the mind, when activated, has the ability to remain objective. To feel another's pain and truly empathize. To joyfully celebrate another's triumphs. To view a situation from another's perspective. To merge worlds.

This is a lifelong struggle — between the heart and the mind. Inhabiting a very limited personal world or cognizance and appreciation of other globes. Ultimately, the mind's ability to triumph in this area is what separates humankind from the animal world.

The Collective Mind

In kabbalistic teachings, the Jewish nation is compared to a large body. Every generation has a leader, who constitutes the "head" of the nation. In fact, the word "Rebbe," the traditional title bestowed upon chassidic masters, is an acronym for the Hebrew words Rosh B'nei Yisroel — "the head of the Children of Israel."

A Rebbe is an individual who has rid himself of his personal bubble. His view isn't colored by personal considerations — he has no personal agenda or worries. Instead his time and total energy are devoted to peering into others' bubbles and endeavoring to help, counsel and uplift them. He is the nation's objective mind.

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the 4th Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, was once asked why receiving chassidim for private audience was so physically exacting. After a short while, he would be perspiring and fatigued. He responded that every time a chassid entered, he had to emotionally "dress himself in that chassid's clothing," in order to properly counsel him. When that chassid left, he had to divest himself of that chassid's clothing, and dress himself in the clothing of his next visitor. Dressing and undressing, dressing and undressing; it's a tiring routine!

Heads Up!

Maybe we'll never completely escape our bubble, but let us at least try to dim its tintThis concept was personified by our Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

I've often heard and read the following observation from people who visited the Rebbe: "When in his presence, I sensed that I had his total attention. No one else existed in those few moments."

He had no personal aspirations. There was not a trace of luxury in his lifestyle or residence, and he felt no need to bask in the glow of his staggering successes. Incredibly, the Rebbe never allowed himself to be honored at a dinner or function of any of the hundreds of the institutions he founded. In fact, he never even attended them. The Rebbe never visited any of the numerous cities whose religious scenes were revitalized by his devoted emissaries. There was too much work to do... Too many people whose worlds needed immediate attention.

Now it is left to us to follow the Rebbe's example. Maybe we'll never completely escape our bubble, but let us at least try to dim its tint, maybe even to designate times every day or week when we completely break out. Special times when we forget about ourselves, and completely devote our talents and resources for others' benefit.