Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer GurkowCourtesy

When things happen to me, good or bad, I often think that G-d is calling. It is a mantra that I took up in life. It reminds me that nothing is random. Everything happens for a reason. G-d is calling to tell me something. It is either good or bad, but He is saying something, and I better listen.

I am always trying to figure out why G-d is calling, or what He is trying to tell me. But I can look back and find a good practice that I should continue or a bad practice that I should discontinue.

When someone I like says something rude out of the blue to throw me off, I take hold of myself and say, Lazer, G-d is calling. I am not inside my friend’s head and don’t know why they said it. That is between my friend and their therapist. But I do know that G-d wanted to shake me up today. My task is to find out why.

Did something this person said, albeit unjustifiably, inadvertently touch on another area of my life that requires fixing? If I am accused of lacking empathy, and I know it was undeserved in this situation, I look for other examples. If I find it, I tell myself ruefully, there it is. You found it. G-d is calling.

It can also go the other way. Someone might say something very nice to me that I know is undeserving. I might get a flattering comment on social media or an undeserved gift from an old friend. When that happens, I try not to let it get to my head. Once again, I say to myself, G-d is calling. What is He trying to say? What good practice have I taken up that He wants to encourage?

I begin my search with practices related to the gift or the compliment. If I can’t find it, I look for it in the context of what I was doing or saying right before or after receiving the good news.

Sometimes I don’t find the answer, but I still conclude that G-d is calling. I don’t know what it was for. So I take it as a general nudge from above. G-d is either calling to award me and tell me I am doing a good job, or G-d is calling to tell me that I need to improve. If I don’t know precisely what, I take it as a general reminder to raise my game. I can always find something to improve.

In this past Shabbat Torah reading, we read that G-d called to Moses. In Hebrew, the spelling for Moshe is mem, shin, and hei. This means that the letters mem and hei bracket the name, Moshe. Together they spell mah—Hebrew for what. Mah is one of those words that say everything in one word. It means, what am I? With G-d, I am everything; without G-d, I am nothing. I am, but what.

G-d called Moses because Moses personified the thinking of mah. Life is not about me; life is about a much larger picture. If it were just me, mah—what would it amount to? It is about G-d. Therefore, when something happened to Moses, He knew without a doubt that it was G-d calling.

Can we aspire to be like Moses? Is that even possible? The answer is yes. There was only one Moses, but we can each aspire to be a little like him. A little more than we already are. We can each aspire to bring our mah to the next level. To see the world through the prism of mah, not just the prism of me.

The Broader View
Sometimes it is hard to get over our feeling of offense if someone hurts us or gratitude if someone compliments us. But that is our ego covering up the little Moses in us and covering up our mah with a little too much of me. A hassid once poured his heart out to his Rebbe about his many problems. The Rebbe replied, “You told me what you need, but you didn’t tell me what you are needed for.”

Sometimes we need to take a step back and take a broader view. Not view the events of our day through the prism of how they make us feel but about what they tell us to do. What we are needed for. We often find ourselves empowered to move forward when we take a larger view.

I once saw a picture of a turkey’s head. But the camera pulled back, and I saw it was a portrait on a wall in a house. Then the camera pulled back, and I saw an entire village of huts. The camera pulled back again, and the town turned out to be made of little toy houses arranged by a child playing with his toy village. It then turned out that the child and the toy village was a picture—held by a boy lounging on a chair.

The camera pulled back further, and the boy was sitting with his family. Then it panned around, and the family was sitting on a deck of a cruise ship. The camera panned even further back, and the cruise ship turned out to be an advertisement on the side of a bus. It turns out the bus was on a busy street surrounded by cars and pedestrians. When the camera pulled back, this entire view was discovered to be a scene on a television screen watched by a man sitting on a chair in a vast desert.

I finally thought I had the complete picture, but the camera pulled back again, and it turned out that the entire desert with the man sitting in it, watching the bus, with the ad of the cruise ship, with the boy holding a picture, of the child playing with the toy houses, inside of which there was a picture of a turkey, was a twenty-nine cent stamp for the State of Arizona.

The stamp was on an envelope held by a native surrounded by fellow natives on an isolated beach. But this beach was being observed through the cockpit of an overflying plane. But the plane was caught by a lens with a panoramic view of the entire ocean, beach, and all. Then the camera panned back, and the picture was taken from outer space, and the whole planet was lost in the panorama of the universe.

This image reminds me that events that happen to me cannot be viewed through the paralyzingly small view of my prism. There is a much larger picture at hand. It is not about me; it is a reminder to make life more about mah. What does G-d want from me? G-d is calling; what is He trying to say?

When we view life this way, we inevitably do bigger and better things than when we view life through our selfish prism. People are drawn to us when we say and do kind things, and we have better relationships. This opens up new opportunities that help us get ahead in life. Life, in general, becomes much better when we stop viewing it through the prism of me, when we stop judging life by how it makes us feel.

But the benefit we gain from it is hardly the reason to change our worldview. The primary reason to shift away from me is to focus on mah. What? Not what does me need, but mah, what is me needed for?

When that happens, we see everything in life as another call from G-d. We will know in our guts that G-d is calling. The only question will be mah, what is He trying to say?