Why do we say when we pray, "Let my soul be like dust to everyone"?

At the conclusion of the Amidah prayer, three times a day, we say the concluding prayer of Mar the son of Ravina as found "with monor variations (Steinsalz)" in b. Berakhot 17a.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand comments on this:
Tosfos [Brochos 17a] comments on the prayer recited at the end of the Shmoneh Esrei: "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent; and let my soul be like dust to everyone." What is the meaning of the term "let my soul be like dust to everyone?" Tosfos suggests the very idea introduced by the Medrash above: Just like dust (afar) is never destroyed and always remains, we pray that our descendants should always remain and not be destroyed.

This prayer is speaking about people who are not our friends, people who curse us and abuse us. We pray that to those who curse us, we remain silent and we pray that our soul will remain like dust vis-à-vis our enemies. What is the intention when we pray that we should be like dust? It expresses a desire to be among those "who are insulted by others but do not respond in kind, who hear themselves being shamed, but do not respond" [Shabbos 88b]. Such people are the ones who eventually come out on top. We express this aspiration with the words "may my soul be like dust to everyone." ....
We are not satisfied with this explanation for several reasons, one of which is that our wish that our soul be "like dust to everyone" is followed in the next line of our prayers by our wish, "May my soul pursue your mitzvot."

Now that is one versatile soul. One second it is like dust, the next second it is pursuing religious acts.

Just one minute. If the soul is like dust, then wait, we say daily in the preliminary psalms (Ps 30:9), "What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?"

So here we have the makings of a complicated puzzle. We want to protect our souls and yet we want our souls to purse the commandments. We want to protect them perhaps because we ask a lot of our souls. Or perhaps there are other ways to look at the soul and dust comparison. Perhaps we need to know more about the soul... and about the dust comparison. Perhaps we need to write a book about the soul, with a chapter on the dust comparison.

Our thinking and searching about this topic and those words led us to an amazing book by Nicolas Humphrey, Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness.

Humphrey posits that, "Consciousness... is nothing less than a magical-mystery show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what Humphrey calls the 'soul niche'."

We've written several articles and chapters about the ideas of consciousness in the Talmud. And we've written a bunch of stuff about prayer. Accordingly all that's how we decided that we do need to write a theological-humanological book about the soul and dust and the magical-mystery show of our Jewish consciousness in our prayer.

1 comment:

David said...

You have a question for the Psalmist.