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Poster Commentary
"Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: “I am a speck of dust,” and on the other : “The world was created for me.”"Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa
Poster design:Nina Duran


by Dr. Elana Stein Hain

The Hasidic master, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, viewed life as a balancing act: each individual is, on the one hand, merely one of uncountable specks of dust; at the same time, each human being -- with their individual persona and potential -- is uniquely irreplaceable. And while we ourselves may vacillate between these two perspectives over the course of a lifetime, Rabbi Simcha challenges us to keep both sides accessible at all times, even when one perspective seems to naturally dominate.

Moreover, Rabbi Simcha's statement rejects competition: if I am worthy, others are less so, and if others are worthy, I must be inferior in some way. Instead, he would have us resist the tendency to apply only one of the notes to ourselves, while reserving the second note for others. In this manner, Rabbi Simcha urges us to see all people as both humble and boundless in their significance.

Lastly, it is noteworthy that Rabbi Simcha places these notes in our pockets. Peshischa Hasidism was the first of its kind to emphasize concealing one's piety in order to prioritize authenticity before God over preoccupation with what others may think. Thus, it is what is in one's pockets, not on one's sleeve, that counts.

Consequently, this aphorism expresses yet another insight into the roots of healthy self-esteem: valuing one's own integrity over external sources of validation. It is not what people say aloud about themselves that truly matters, but rather what they think in their own minds and hearts.

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the director of leadership education for the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, where she serves as a lead faculty member and oversees the content of lay and professional leadership programs. Dr. Hain earned her doctorate in religion from Columbia University on the topic of legal loopholes in rabbinic literature. She served as a clergywoman at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, and has served on the faculty of New York University and Wexner Heritage.

Conversation Guide

1. Do Rabbi Simcha’s pocket notes ring true to you about yourself? How do you strive to achieve the healthy balance between these two perspectives?
2. How do you respond when things feel beyond your control, as if you are merely a speck of dust, destined to be carried by winds not of your making?
3. Are you more prone to wear your opinions and beliefs on your sleeve, or to keep them in your pocket? Why?
1. How do the objects portrayed tell a story about the person living out this quote? Describe her or him.
2. To whom do you think the owner is showing the objects? Would you be as brave and open with the personal belongings you carry? What do they say about you?
3. Does the poster convey the tension between humility and pride that this quote encourages? How so?




Frames of Mind@2015, Nina Duran, Quote: Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA