One day as I walked with my holy teacher and physician, Dr. Sundar, along a monsoon- soaked path in South India after the afternoon shower had abated, we came upon an earthworm wriggling desperately in the middle of a shallow puddle.
Now, I have always wondered why earthworms always decide to cross paths in the rain, then find themselves stranded in the middle when the sun comes out to dry them up into little leather strings, to their demise.
Dr. Sundar did not answer my question, but hurried to find a twig on the ground. He slid this under the formerly hapless worm, and lifted it gently to safety in the grass beside the path.
I confronted him: “Doctor-ji, both your religion and mine believe in reincarnation. We both believe that our souls are sent into physical forms in order to complete rectifications that can only be achieved in that specific form. Now that worm that we just found was on its way to its death, which means that its job on earth was completed, and the soul that dwells within it was about to be released. I have often wondered whether I should interfere with that process, as you just did, or whether I should leave the worm to complete its mission so that its soul can return to its source. What was your reason for saving the worm’s life?”
Dr. Sundar regarded me gravely. “That is a very good question, Leebi. You see, God opened my eyes so that I can see the worm. If God does not want me to save the worm’s life, then he does not open my eyes and I do not see it, and the worm can die. But if God opens my eyes, and I see the worm, then I know that God has put me in this place at the right time so that I can act, and then I must save the worm.”
I am thinking about that lesson tonight, in the Hebrew month of Elul. This is the month before Rosh haShanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh haShanah is most famous for apples dipped in honey; but in reality it is also the Day of Judgement, when our merits and deficiencies will be weighed in the Heavenly Court, and it will be decided whether or not we will be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year.
For observant Jews, this is the time to make a Heshbon Nefesh, an accounting of one’s soul, to examine one’s own life minutely to try to find the places where rectifications are necessary. It is a time to deal honestly with one’s self, and leniently with others. In fact, it is said that if one judges others harshly, then one will be judged harshly; and if one judges others on the side of merit, so one will also be judged before the Heavenly Court.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, in his famous Torah 282 in Likutei Mohoran, taught that in every person, no matter how evil they might be, there is a nikudah tovah, a good point. Even if a person didn’t intend to do a good deed, he points out, there is no one who has not, albeit perhaps accidentally, done a good deed. Let’s say that a thief helped an old lady across the street with the intention of mugging her (this is my example, not Rabbi Nachman’s!). Even though his motive was evil, he nevertheless did the good deed of helping her across the street.
So he teaches that we should search for the good points in every person, and look only at the good points; and if we do so, then in the place where an evil person once stood, only good will stand!
And then, he goes on to teach us that once we learn how to see the good points in others, we can go on to do that for ourselves. And if we can learn to concentrate on our good points and ignore the bad, we will in time become only good.
But first, we must ask God to open our eyes. Just like when we saw the worm! If God had not opened our eyes, we would not have seen the worm, and it would have perished. But we saw it, and that gave it more time in its worm life to accomplish the rectifications that it needed to complete, in order to progress to a higher plane of existence. Surely if God saw fit for us humans to see the worm in time to save its life, certainly, as my Nanny of blessed memory would have said, God must have had plans for it.
And if God has plans for a worm’s life, what plans must S/he have for ours?