Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pershyscha. It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket. On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.” He would take out each slip of paper as necessary, as a reminder to himself.
Rabbi Toba Spitzer -
Some of us are quite comfortable with the idea that the world was created for our sake.
Maybe it’s hard to admit, but if you carry yourself with a certain sense of entitlement, an expectation that the world’s doors should open easily before you, if you tend to think that most of the time you’re right and the world around you is getting it wrong, then perhaps it’s time to spend a little time in the “dust and ashes” pocket.
“Dust and ashes” helps cut through our arrogance; our conviction that we’re always right or that we need to be right.
It helps put our life and our ego in perspective. It’s a really important reminder to think about how much of life’s bounty we really are entitled to, and do we perhaps enjoy a far greater share than any one person might reasonably expect. Once we have that realization, it’s amazing how generosity and abundance can open up in our hearts and in our lives.
V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes”—is also a call to an awareness of our finite-ness, our mortality, our smallness in the cosmic scheme of things.
“Every person should know and consider the fact that you, in the particular way that you are made, are unique in the world, and no one like you has ever been. For if someone like you had already been, there would be no reason for you to be in this world. Actually, everyone is something new in this world, and here we must work to perfect our particular being, for because we are still imperfect, the coming of the Messiah is delayed!” (Ten Rings: Hasidic Sayings, Martin Buber)