Rabbi Nir Gurevitch

Behind the Scenes

Have you ever, while walking or driving, noticed a building that really caught your attention? So much so that you had to stop, or pull over, and admire it? What did you think to yourself? Did you say “What a beautiful building?” Or did you say, “I wonder who built that?” When something attracts our attention we have these twin impulses, in a way complementary, in a way contradictory. On the one hand we admire the object itself – the building, the painting, the song, the well- cooked meal, the piece of furniture. On the other, we want to know who made it.

Sometimes, the name means everything. The work itself – whether in the field of architecture, literature, music or art – is not as significant as who composed or made it. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that the quality of the work is assumed. The artist – or whatever – has already made a name, already has a reputation. So even if the song, for instance, isn’t up to the usual standards, it still has value because of who did it.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter who composed the song, wrote the poem, designed the building, crafted the bookcase. It’s beautiful and meaningful and powerful and functional, regardless. We admire the object first. Indeed, even when we find out who did it, we focus still primarily on the thing itself. The artist gets credit, of course, but the object is what truly excites our interest and admiration.

Curiously, the former can lead to envy or hero worship. We want to be like – or be – the person we so admire. Or we want to follow in his or her footsteps.

But what we may not realize, or recognize, is what that person had to do – the dedication and sacrifices required – to achieve what he or she achieved. And also, of course, it may be a question of talent, of an innate skill or gift that cannot be duplicated.

In the latter case, though, our attention remains on the object and so we are interested not in being the person, but in remaking the object. We focus on the task, on making a copy of the thing we admire. Personality – who did it, who does it – becomes irrelevant. Yes, there’s a person, but he or she is essentially “behind the curtain,” not the centre of attention. In short, the self disappears.

When it comes to performance of mitzvot (commandments), we have the same issue to confront: On the one hand, a mitzva, by definition, requires a person to perform it. After all, a mitzva is a commandment from G-d to an individual (within the larger group of the Jewish people – or the world – as a whole). Performance of a mitzva connects that person to G-d. On the other hand, the main thing is the action, getting the job done.

It doesn’t really matter who gets credit, as long as the commandment is fulfilled and the mitzva is done. In a sense, too, either no one gets credit, if G-d forbid the mitzva is not observed, or everyone gets credit, for everyone who was somehow involved made it happen. Without each contributor, nothing results.

We see this most readily on the stage. The actors, and possibly the director, get all the attention, the applause, the accolades. But without the people behind the scenes, those working behind the curtain, there would be no play – indeed, no theater or audience or script or costumes or lights or – anything. Despite – perhaps because of – their anonymity, they make sure the task is done.

And the job of our times, the goal we labor for “behind the scenes,” is the coming of Moshiach.

With blessings,

Rabbi Nir Gurevitch

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