In Henry James’ “The Private Life” he tells the story of one Clare Vawdrey who is visible everywhere in every conceivable situation. “He talks, he circulates, he’s awfully popular, he flirts with you.” His work is nothing like his social life for it is the work of unalloyed greatness. One evening, while Vawdrey is loitering outdoors, the narrator steals into Vawdrey’s room – only to discover him seated at his table in the dark, feverishly driving his pen. Since it is physically impossible for a material being to be in two places at one time, the narrator concludes that the social Vawdrey is a phantom, while the writer working is the real man. “One is a genius,” he explains, “the other’s the bourgeois, and it’s only the bourgeois whom we personally know.”
We meet two different Abrahams in the Torah text and the Midrash. The spiritual giant, hero, and Tzaddik of the Midrash is almost a phantom in the written text. Which is real?
I often wonder whether some people I meet are the phantom or the real person. There are ebullient and confident people who in private are depressed and insecure. Which is real and which, the phantom?
The problem is when we ask that question about ourselves: We feel one thing when praying in synagogue and another when at work. We have moments of great holiness and moments when we are very human. We often begin to ask which is real and which is the phantom, and we begin to plant seeds of doubt in our minds. Which is our real persona?
This is our challenge in this world; to learn how to simultaneously live in the spiritual and physical worlds. It is not one world or the other, or one part of us material and the other spiritual. Both are real and important. The struggle to master both is our mission and potential greatness.
The Foundation Stone™ and The Foundation Stone™Blog are filled with practical ideas and exercises, insights and suggestions, to add substance to the spiritual phantom, so as to give it more body and make it the more real part of ourselves.
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg