13 Av 5780 / Monday, August 03, 2020 | Torah Reading: Eikev
 
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Individuality



Individuality is a gift, not a liability. The more we can learn to accept it, the faster our shortcomings become opportunities and the darkness in our lives become light…

 



I felt sick to my stomach.

 

I had been writing for hours, and the page count on my word processor was close to 100.

 

The darkness of night outside was a softer shade blue now, and in the early dawn, birds were chirping. I had finished my coffee a while ago and soon my kids would be up. The many mornings I had spent writing furiously had produced a long form essay of my life.

 

I desperately wanted to write about what I had been through and where I was, but deep down I knew I didn’t have the courage to subject it to the rejections and the nos.

 

I was, after all, trying to write an autobiography of my life without hiding much for an audience that I was afraid wouldn’t understand me or it.  I talked about my crisis of faith (read crises), my rocky family life, my incomplete attachment to the non-Jewish world as I had become more observant, and as much as I could about my current lack of life direction.  I couldn’t close the book with the answers I was looking for because I was still living the question.

 

I sent my manuscript to someone I looked up to who had wide recognition within the orthodox Jewish world.  I wanted to know if I could ever hope that orthodox Jews would read my work or if it was ‘too hot for TV’ (a label placed on risqué or violent movies back in the day when there were some semblance of standards).

 

Her response came back unequivocally:  I should share my story with the Orthodox world because it was, in her words, real and would give people hope.

 

The context or the story is a sideline for a major fear that I have had with me since the time I became Torah observant.  No matter what, I was different.

 

My interests, my background, my desires were bad and I needed to become someone else to truly fit in.  I had rushed to put on black pants and a white shirt a few months into yeshiva, but back in California, I wanted to go back to my designer polo shirts.  In Israel I hadn’t stepped foot in the gym, but back in California I felt the weights calling my name. And I still loved my rock music.

 

At the same time, I longed for, and long still, for a better relationship with Hashem. And nothing gave me more pleasure than inspiring Jewish growth in my students, in teaching, and in learning more.  And I had (read, have) a desire still to give of myself, not to hide who I am, to show people that the path to Jewish observance is rocky and roundabout, and dynamic.  And it's easy to say these things, but a lot harder to live it.  And even more difficult to tell others about your struggles.

 

I realize that this sickness of our modern world is enflamed by social media.  The greatness of our forefathers was that they specifically didn’t line up, but blazed their own trails.

 

In the beginning of our silent prayer, was addressed the G-d of Abraham, G-d of Isaac, and G-d of Jacob.  One of the many insights of this cryptic introduction is the grammar; why not just say “G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  I was told by my rabbi that G-d, of course, stays the same.  But each of our forefathers’ path to G-d was so unique that they literally brought a new element of Godliness into the world.  The G-d of Abraham was fundamentally different than the G-d of Jacob.  

 

And so too with us.  The struggles of Joseph, Moses, King David, and later were all different.  And the paths taken by each one was true, and each one would resonate with different people that would follow.  Despite the fact that rabbis and teachings can sound so radical if they stem from the Torah, they are true; just seen and presented through different prisms.  

 

In my life, in many of our lives, we miss this.  We look for how we can fit in, how we can serve G-d like everyone else.  And when our lives are ‘askew’ we try so hard to fit it back into the realm called normalcy.  But, as I learned when I was a child, long before I had even heard of Orthodox Judaism, there was a rabbi who said that the fact that you were born was evidence that G-d decided that the world needed you.

 

It was only much later, in fact while researching an article I was writing for this very website, that I found out that this teaching was from none of other than Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.

 

Individuality is a gift, not a liability.  The more we can learn to accept it, the faster our shortcomings become opportunities, and the darkness in our lives become light.  We aren’t mistakes; G-d wants us with all our uniqueness to find him and come close.  

 

 

* * *

Jacob Rupp is a rabbi, speaker, author, coach, and Director of San Diego NCSY.





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