TWO CENTURIES AGO, Simcha Bunim, a neighborhood pharmacist turned celebrity rabbi, proposed a simple treatment for the human condition.
All of us, he said, should carry a pair of mantras wherever we go, one in each pocket. When life makes us feel small, insignificant, terminally puny, we should pull out the inscription on the right: “The world was created for me.” When we’re puffed up with self-regard, high on our own supply, we should refer to the one on the left: “I am dust and ashes.” These mantras, Bunim believed, would serve as existential ballast, keeping us from tilting too far in either direction.
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