If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
Hillel, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 1-14
Rabbi Dov Ber of Radoshitz was fond of exclaiming just after awakening, loud enough for everyone in his dwelling place to hear, “Wake my friends, a guest you have never before seen has arrived. Once gone you will never see him again. “ His students asked, “Who is this guest, Rabbi?” Dov Ber replied, “Why today, of course!” In fact, Rabbi Dov Ber of Radoshitz had it almost right; he just was counting too long a time period. The guest he might have considered would be this very moment, a period of time so infinitely brief that it cannot be measured without stopping time itself and the very moment it arrives it is always already gone, disappearing into a trace, a remembered moment.
What is remembered is but a simulacrum of the moment, what is the remembered past is but a mere string of traces left behind by this very moment, glossed over by a varnish that enhances the good and diminishes the pain. In this sense, the lived experience, the existential life, is guided by the simulacra of this very moment compressed into an interpretation of a life lived; a remembered past serves as the guidepost for the wished for future.
Time is experienced by the self as a linear extension of moments strung together moving progressively along a thread of experience. Time is an experience of the interior self extended into the exterior or material world presenting the self with a significant problem, that of intercourse with the other, with other absolutely unique selves existing in the world. Without the bother of the other to contend with, the self would be content to be only for itself. Presented with the other, however, the selfish act of being only for oneself is impossible. The very idea of turning totally inward to the interiority of the self is to withdraw from all social contact. While there are times when one normally withdraws, times of physical or emotional pain for example, the thought of remaining totally withdrawn is outside the very nature of the human being to seek social contact.
Intercourse with the absolutely unique other is a sort of practice for the encounter with the Absolute Other, the infinite awaiting each and every human being. There is no escape, no substitution for this encounter with the Other; the only question is when. Yet, given the encounter with the infinitely brief moment in which the lived experience is fully engaged, the infinite passes by almost unnoticed, leaving but the ever-fading trace behind as a reminder of the existential journey.
The encounter with the other requires one to be response-able, to respond to the call of the other while demanding of the self to be absolutely available, to become proximate while waiting for the call of the other. Being response-able is a choice one makes, an ethical choice to be ready to be responsible for the welfare of the other without reservation or without the expectation of reciprocation. The proximate choice, the placing oneself in the position of ethical response to the cry of the other involves waiting for the call. In this sense the ethical choice appears to be passive. In fact, making the ethical response-able choice is actively renewed in this very moment, over and over, while waiting in the proximate space for the call that may never arrive to come. Like Rabbi Dov Ber of Radoshitz, the moment of choice to revel in the moment of response-ability is now because to overlook the opportunity is to lose it forever. Like Rabbi Hillel, there is no better time than this very moment to make the ethical choice to announce to the world “Here I Am!” and wait for the response. Life in this very moment requires each self to act for the welfare and benefit of the other without demanding anything of the other in return.
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