Character Development

Copycats Mimics and Impersonators

A disciple of my brother-in-law, Rav Shlomo Twerski, zt”l, once asked him if he was trying to model his behavior and approach to life based on the example of his father, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Twerski, zt”l. Reb Shlomo responded that this was indeed his intention—but not in the straightforward sense. “My father was not an imitator or a copycat, and neither am I,” he said. Implicit in his response was the fact that Hashem created all of us as different and unique human beings, and that each of us must strive to become who we were meant to be. Our Sages note, “Just as people’s faces are dissimilar from one another, so too is their essence different.” 

Consider Malky, who came in for her “annual spiritual.” She is one of the many praiseworthy women who take this season of introspection seriously. Malky reported that she was still struggling with an issue that has plagued her for many years. Intellectually, she understood that the Master of the world “packs our suitcase,” that it is He who determines the circumstances of our lives. Emotionally, however, she could not come to terms with the fact that she didn’t get the husband she had dreamed of, the house she had envisioned, financial security, and other things she had hoped for. She confessed that she looked at those around her and envied what she perceived as their charmed lives. Upon further inquiry, she acknowledged that her spouse is a person of substance, extremely devoted to her and to the family, a person who enjoys the respect of the community. Malky also conceded that her children are wonderful and that she wants for nothing. She has a roof over her head, food on the table, clothing to wear; her utilities are paid, and although she is not living in luxury, she has all the basics.

In her mind, however, she lives a life of privation. Malky wanted to understand the “why”of the suitcase Hashem had packed for her, including a childhood of abuse and an adulthood of protracted depression over her lot. We discussed the fact that there is meaning and purpose to all challenges, and that along with the trials and tribulations, Hashem packs ample resources to cope with them. The caveat, however, is that we must choose to use these resources effectively. We spoke of the fact that comparisons are irrelevant because other people’s suitcases don’t belong to us, and what each of us has to deal with is not arbitrary. Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, has a vision of what each person should contribute to the destiny of His world, and the tools to fulfill our mission are the particular circumstances of our ex istence. It is unquestionably a tall order. It is only human to want to be the one in charge, the one who writes the script. I exhorted Malky to remember that an essential component of our faith in Divine Providence (hashgachah pratis) is the certitude that whatever we contend with comes from a G-d who loves each and every one of us even more than a parent loves an only child. Hashem is not to be seen as a punitive being who delights in our misery. Hashem is on our team and is rooting for us. Our Sages comment that it is for this reason that G-d created Adam, the first human being on earth, as a yechidi, a solitary person. Hashem, who is omnipotent, could just as easily have formed a universe initially populated with billions of people. The creation of a single person, our Sages state, was a declaration to everyone, past, present and future, that in His eyes, all of creation was worth it for that person’s sake alone. Clearly, the message is that every neshamah is inordinately precious to Hashem.

Moreover, it reinforces the concept that each person’s mission is singular and specific. A parable that captures this message is that of a water carrier who delivered two pails of water to the king’s palace each day. One of the two pails perched on his shoul-der had a crack in it. By the time the water carrier arrived at the palace, half of the water in that pail had dripped out. Distressed, the pail complained to the carrier that it was futile for him to schlep a damaged pail. “Why don’t you just replace me with an intact one?” he asked. In response, the water carrier directed the cracked pail to observe his side of the road on their next trip and report what he saw. The pail noted beautiful flowers and vegetation growing, whereas the other side of the path was, surprisingly, barren. “Don’t you see?” the water carrier explained. “The flaw in you was deliberate, so that you might water the seeds on your side of the road. What you thought to be a defect was in reality the specific mission assigned to you.”

Reb Shlomo observed with great insight that he was indeed following his father’s example; they were alike in the sense that neither of them was an imitator. This concept enables us to celebrate distinctiveness rather than resenting differences. It confirms the understanding that Hashem, in His great wisdom, assigns each of us equally important, albeit different, roles as we toil in His “vineyard.” To the extent that we can integrate this understanding, we will achieve a level of menuchas hanefesh borne of energies liberated from the pointless quest to be like others, envying “suitcases” that don’t belong to us. May Hashem bless each of us as only He can, and inspire us with the wisdom to delight in our unique strengths and blessings. May this new year enable us to fulfill our individual potential with glad hearts and grateful spirits.

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