Do I need it or do I desire it?
Short Essays written on a variety of different Jewish concepts.
27th July 2017 | 4 Av, 5777
I sometimes have a bit of a gripe with how often people use the word ‘need’; my kids in particular. I ‘need’ new shoes; I ‘need’ a suit; I ‘need’ my own room. I tell my kids if you want to say that you need water, you need oxygen, you need warmth, then I could agree. But you need a suit when you have three already? You might want a suit; you might desire a suit, but you certainly don’t ‘need’ one!
I’m not just being pedantic. Words have power and when I say that I ‘need’ something, it affects my own thinking about it –and can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I now do ‘need’ it, because I have thought so much that I do.
The Torah, in talking this week about judges, tells them not to be unfair because, ‘judgment is God’s’. Rashi, the Medieval commentator explains that God makes sure every person has exactly what they need. So if you, as a judge, take something from a person unfairly then God will have to make sure that the person gets it back somehow. Your unfairness as a judge makes God work harder, so to speak, to rebalance his world.
I think this is a beautiful idea in Jewish philosophy. God is constantly juggling with the balance of the world to ensure that each of us has exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. There might be things we don’t have that we want; that we would like; that would enhance and add value to our lives. But things that we need are all taken care of, always. Such as my world is, at any moment, my ducks are all in a row for life to be exactly what I need it to be. I ‘need’ nothing more than what I have right now.
It’s great to see the world this way because it means that instead of constantly battling to stay afloat in life, we can actually start swimming towards a destination. As Maslow would tell us, when we think we have lots of ‘needs’ unmet, it’s hard to focus on too much else. We are busy fire-fighting instead of building and growing. When we know, however, that what we have right now is exactly what we need, we can focus on the job at hand – partnering with God to create a better world.
Like with my kids, so much of what we ‘need’ is just an exaggeration of our own thinking. For sure, we always need much less than we think we do. And if, like me, you want to go as far as Judaism does, you know that we actually need nothing – because our needs are always being met. And even when others do their best to stymie that, God will quickly rebalance our world again. For me, knowing that my needs will always be met means that I can think beyond myself and consider how I can better contribute to the lives of others instead.