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The Me Generation

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A person is obligated to say: “The entire world was created for my sake.”

Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a

“The entire world was created for me.”

To a child, this is obvious fact. He or she is the center and focus of all. Father and mother and the rest of the universe exist merely to cater to his needs.

The adverse results of such an attitude are self-evident; indeed, weeding out the negative in man’s base instincts is what education is all about. But the egocentric instinct that the child exemplifies has a positive side as well. A child has no problem dealing with an insignificance of self in face of humanity’s billions and the vastness of the universe. He is utterly convinced that his existence has meaning and his deeds have consequence.

This is the child in ourselves that we must learn to cultivate and exploit: the conviction that our every thought and deed is of real, even global, significance.

Maimonides suggests that we view the world as a giant balance-scale. “A person should always see himself as equally balanced,” he writes, “half good and half evil. Likewise, he should see the entire world as half good and half evil…  So that with a single good deed he will tip the scales for himself, and for the entire world, to the side of merit.”[1]

We know that a sneeze in New Jersey can cause a thunderstorm in China. Can we say the same of the social universe? Can a single act, word or thought on your part resound in billions of lives?

Ask your child. Or the child in you.

Based on an address by the Rebbe, Tevet 16, 5750 (January 13, 1990).

[1]  Mishneh Torah, Laws of Repentance, 3:4.

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