Tefillah - 016 True Aspirations
Greatness of Man – A Spark of Hashem’s Greatness
When we say הגדול (Great One) in the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei, simply speaking it is referring to Hashem, Who is great, but it is also referring to the middah of Hashem which Avraham Avinu exemplified. Avraham Avinu was called the “great one amongst the giants.”
Hashem’s greatness is endless. Hashem is endless, and therefore He is in essence Great, since He is endless. Avraham Avinu was the person in the world who reflected “greatness”, and thus he came to resemble this particular middah of Hashem, that Hashem is Gadol\Great. Man can somewhat reflect the greatness of Hashem, when he matures in his spirituality and he reaches greatness - as opposed to remaining with primitive and immature understanding, which would deem him “small”.
When Man Is ‘Great’, and when Man is ‘Small’
In our mind, there are two levels of thought. The lower mode of thought is called mochin d’katnus (the small, “immature” state of mind), and the higher mode of thought is called mochin d’gadlus (the “mature” state of mind). These two modes are present in our heart as well – there can be ‘gadlus’ (greatness) in our heart, or there can be ‘katnus’ (smallness) in our heart.
What is katnus\smallness of mind? This is when a person has no aspirations in life. There are people who are very happy with little and they don’t demand much in their life, but this doesn’t necessarily come from having good middos. It can be simply because the person has no aspirations in life, and it comes from his aspect of katnus in the soul.
To illustrate, people from Africa are very ‘humble’ and they will gladly become slaves, but it’s not because they possess the worthy trait of humility. It is rather because they have no aspirations from themselves. They view themselves with katnus. This is an example of someone who has katnus in his heart – the aspirations are present in the heart, so when a person has no aspirations, he has an immature heart.
We will give another example, which takes this concept further in its ramifications. There is a kind of person who might know the entire Talmud Bavli very well, and he even takes tests on them and gets excellent marks on these tests. Yet, this very same person might have no idea about how to live his life. He might be very immature about how he views life; he lives life through his lower aspect, katnus. This is an example of katnus in the mind.
Katnus of the heart is when a person lacks aspirations to grow in holiness. Katnus of the mind is when a person is immature about how to live life (even if he’s very knowledgeable in Torah).
Most people have aspirations on this world only for materialistic matters. It is hard to find people who have aspirations to become mature in their spirituality. So most people today have katnus in their heart. Katnus of the mind (or mochin d’katnus) is also the state of most people. We see this from the fact that people gain their perspective on life by learning “history”. History is informative, but it does not help you gain the perspective on how you need to live your life. Yet, most people base their understanding about life through learning history, and this is an example of mochin d’katnus.
In order for a person to access mochin d’gadlus – the higher state of mind, the mature outlook on life – a person needs to observe what’s really going Creation - from beginning until the end – and to see the greatness behind all in it. This is not the study of history, but rather to see the path of Creation from beginning until now, to see its underlying message. Chazal say, “Who is wise? The one who sees what will come.” A fool only focuses on the present moment, while a wise person takes into the account the past and future, in order to understand what’s going on in the present.
There are people who have many wonderful aspirations in spirituality – such as the aspiration to finish Shas (the entire Talmud Bavli), or to fix all their middos, or to open up a prominent organization that will help people. Yet, these very same people might be sorely lacking in their very attitude towards life. Many of these high-aspiring people are still at the level of mochin d’katnus! Aspirations for holiness don’t necessarily give a person a more mature outlook on life…
How does a person reach mochin d’gadlus? It is not through having more yishuv hadaas (a settled, relaxed mind). It is rather through seeing how each thing in Creation is really big, vast, deep, and complex. It is to see the “gadlus”, the “greatness” of Creation – that everything in Creation is really deep and complex. That is how you reach mochin d’gadlus.
Every person has alternating times in which he experiences mochin d’gadlus and mochin d’katnus. This is because when a person sins, he loses the tzelem elokim (likeness of Hashem) which he was created with, and then his mind falls to the level of mochin d’katnus.
If a person directs his life towards always thinking about Hashem, though, he lives a life of mochin d’gadlus. If all he thinks about is himself, then he lives a life of mochin d’katnus.
When a person makes sure to see the Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence) going on all the time in Creation, he sees the greatness of Hakadosh Baruch Hu – he can get in touch with the Endlessness of Hashem. He can see an endless love and endless compassion coming from Hashem, through the many acts of Hashgacha Peratis that Hashem does.
If a person can only tell when there is Hashgacha Peratis from ‘big’ events such as the exodus of Egypt and the splitting of the sea, he is still viewing life through a ‘small’ lens. But if a person can see every day how supposedly ‘small’ acts contain Hashem’s Divine Providence, he is one who truly sees Hashem’s greatness, and he lives a life of mochin d’gadlus.
Avraham Avinu – The Epitome of Greatness
Thus, Avraham Avinu is the one who personifies הגדול, the “Great One”, because he reached the highest level of man’s greatness, by recognizing the Creator from seeing the Creation. He observed Creation and saw how even the tiniest details were being run by a Creator. He saw a Greatness from amidst every ‘small’ thing he saw. That was the depth of Avraham Avinu’s gadlus\greatness.
Practically Working On This
When a person wants to really change and better himself, he takes upon himself various resolutions. We know that it is insensible for a person to take on resolutions that are beyond his current level. Such resolutions are unrealistic and they are ineffective for self-improvement. The proper approach a person should take is, instead of taking upon yourself major changes to your lifestyle, is to just see daily Hashgacha Peratis in even seemingly “small” episodes. Begin to recognize Hashem in everything that goes on in your life, even the “small” things.
To illustrate, a person often views Torah learning as something big, while doing a mitzvah seems to be something of “smaller” importance. When he does the mitzvah, he will involve himself with it, but he will view the mitzvah as only a “small” thing, in comparison to Torah learning, and therefore the mitzvah won’t have much of an effect on him. But if a person gets used to seeing how even “small” things are really “big” and important matters (for everything in Creation is vast), he will then become affected by the mitzvos he performs.
 For a more in-depth look at this concept, see Getting To Know Your Thoughts: Chapter 006: The Two Modes of Thought.