07 Jan Who am I? Moses and the Dalai Lama
As I write, it is hard to ignore the shock and horror of yesterday’s events. I have always believed we are a civil, respectful country. I pray that our country return to civility, fellowship, and peace, and that those who feel passionate learn restraint and respect. I also pray for the families of those hurt and killed, and that all those in government and police remain safe as they continue to protect our democracy.
At the end of Kundun, a fantastic movie about the Dalai Lama, an Indian border guard asks the Dalai Lama, “With all respect, sir, may I ask, who are you?”
“What you see before you is a man, a simple monk.”
“Are you the Lord Buddha?”
“I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.”
In that scene, I do not believe the Dalai Lama is concealing his identity; he believes what he is saying. He is a spiritual thinker who is conscious of the reality that our self is constantly constructed by each of us, and also that we fundamentally cannot see each others’ deepest selves. In fact, there is also a midrash about Moses that he too was like a mirror, and when people looked at him they saw their own flaws.
In this week’s parsha, Shemot, we find that the Jews have become enslaved. Moses is born, raised as an Egyptian prince, and runs away to Midian, where he encounters God in a burning bush.
At that scene, like the Dalai Lama, Moses is humble, and claims no inherent greatness. Told he is to redeem the Jews, Moses asks “who am I to confront Pharoah and redeem the Jews?” God’s answer is “I will be with you.” You are not great yourself, but when you channel divine energy, it is that energy which will confront Pharoah and redeem the Jews. You will be a channel for the divine “I.”
After this, Moses asks God “who shall I say sent me?” God’s answer is “I will be what I will be,” Ehyeh asher eheyh. This phrase, considered God’s highest name, means that God is constantly re-creating Godself. It is not just that God is constantly becoming, God is the energy of constant self re-creation.
In the morning prayer for creation (yotzer), we say “hamechadesh betuvo bechol yom ma’aseh Bereshit:” God, in goodness, constantly renews the work of creation. Each day, the kabbalists teach, God not only re-creates the world, but re-creates God-self. Martin Buber wrote that when we wake up, it is a chance to re-create ourselves, and in doing so we are imitating god.