Friday, January 2, 2015

Go For Your Own Sake

For most of my life, I was plagued with questions about why I do or don't do certain things, mostly because it wasn't the same as anyone else. 

I didn't like camp, or sleepovers, or floor length denim skirts that prevent movement.  

I liked long words, animals, and history class. 

Every once in a while, someone would ask why I was weird.  

Blessed with a strong ego, I felt no need to change. I just accepted that I was a freak, and left it at that. 

I then attended college after opting out of seminary (my principal wasn't happy, obviously) and spent quite some time (five years) defending that choice as well. Then I find myself explaining my choice of degree, and now my job. 

One day I looked around and noticed: We are free to do what we like. And plenty of people do just that. Then it hit me: We don't have to be the same. 

It's not that I am a single, solitary nutjob; the majority prefer to herd together into indistinguishable mass, but there are others who make their own choices and feel no need to defend themselves.

Rabbi Tvi Hersch Weinreb discussed this. His class was analyzing Avrohom's leaving of Charan.
. . . a fascinating epigram attributed to the mid-19th century Hassidic sage, Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk:

If I am I because you are you,
And you are you because I am I,
Then, I am not I
And you are not you.

But, if I am I because I am I
And you are you because you are you
Then I am I
And you are you.

I cannot be myself if I am merely imitating you. That's just blind conformity. I have to find what is unique in me, what are my God-given gifts and talents, and I must express them. Then, I am I and can achieve my life's mission.

This is not a teaching with which all Jewish leaders would agree. But this was the view of the very creative Rabbi of Kotzk, and he was neither the first nor the last to assert this teaching.
We are supposed to do our own thing. 
. . . Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and this is a quotation drawn from his extensive and erudite commentary on the Five Books of Moses:
"Lech Lecha literally means, ‘Go to yourself.’ Find your own path. Be ready to choose the lonely path which will separate you from your land, your birthplace, your father's home. Be ready to separate yourself from all the connections that you have formed to this point. Lech Lecha, go at it alone. If the ideology of the multitude is not true, be prepared to worship God alone. How would we, the Jewish people, have been able to exist, and how can we possibly continue to exist, had we not inherited from Abraham our father the courage to be in the minority, even in a minority of one?"


Daniel Saunders said...

Your list of idiosyncracies is scarily similar to mine (just replace 'floor length skirts' with 'football and parties' and 'animals' with 'books and Doctor Who')! And one of my favourite Kotzker quotes too! I didn't go to yeshiva either.

I do worry how my non-yeshiva attendance will go down with making frum friends, though, let alone dating in the frum world. I am trying hard to build the confidence not to care, to think that the people who are right for me won't mind and the people who care can safely be ignored. It can be difficult, though. The Kotzker is a big influence on me here; he had a lot more quotes stressing the importance of individuality in Judaism.

Princess Lea said...

Ah, "friends." If all the people that surrounded me refused to be individuals and insisted upon being PC, then chances are I would have nothing in common with them.

Apparently, Ma says, it gets easier, doing one's own thing with confidence, when one reaches 60. Hang in there.

Daniel Saunders said...

My Dad says something similar. But I'm only 31 - 60 is a long way away! And I hope to have made some more friends before then.

Single on the Scene said...

Creepy! I began reading and honestly thought it was something I muself wrote! My how similar we r, Princess. Here's my motto: the same is lame, unique is chic!
Stay true to yourself! Too many black skirted, poofy haired, patent leather flats out there.

Princess Lea said...

DS: Oh, I'm waiting for 60.

SotS: Great Hungarians think alike!

Why does the poofy-hair look keep coming back? Every time I think it has finally gasped its last, it shows up again. It there some sort of secret to how it regenerates?

tesyaa said...

I'd say 40.

Princess Lea said...

I like to keep my expectations low. Luke became adored in his mid-30s, but I don't want to be greedy.