THE MITZVAH TO BE YOURSELF

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THE MITZVAH TO BE YOURSELF

Parashat Shelach

At least twice a day, we recite the words  וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם. And you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes, that you are straying after them.

The Netziv brings to our attention a deeper meaning of this Passuk.  Why does the Passuk use the word תתורו, which comes from the root word spying, looking for something new, or wandering? It would be more appropriate to say, instead, ולא תלכו אחרי לבבכם And don’t go after your hearts…?!?

Our Rabbis wanted to bury King Solomon’s Kohelet, for it seemed to contradict the Torah, until they reconciled each apparently conflicting verse. (Vayikra Rabah 28a). Rabbi Yishmael asks if there may be a contradiction to these words of Shema, “not to wander after your heart”, in the words of Kohelet, שְׂמַ֧ח בָּח֣וּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶ֗יךָ … וְהַלֵּךְ֙ בְּדַרְכֵ֣י לִבְּךָ֔ Rejoice lad, in your youth, and go in the way of your heart (Kohelet 11). But Rabbi Yishmael reconciled the difference by focusing on the precision of the words. Go after your heart, but don’t תתורו, or wander after your heart.

What is the difference between going after your heart or wandering after your heart? “Going after your heart” would mean following what you connect to, looking inward.  ,תתורו wandering after your heart, would mean looking outward, at what everyone else is doing. רבי אומר איזהו דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם כל שהיא תפארת לעושיה ותפארת לו מן האדם The most beautiful you is when you are following what you really connect to, something internal, or מן האדם (Harchev Davar/ Netziv). The Torah is telling us, in the words, לא תתורו, to be yourself. Be original. Life is limited. Don’t waste time trying to be someone else.

The Netziv expounds on why this concept of being yourself is mentioned next to the laws of Tzitzit strings. Tzitzit strings are the reminder to the 613 mitzvot, and each person has a mitzvah that he connects to. The Talmud brings a list of Rabbis, where each Rabbi mentioned that his Olam Haba would come from a specific Mitzvah that he connected to and took very seriously. Tzitzit, Shabbat, etc. (Shabbat 118b) The Ritva writes that each Talmid Chacham should choose one Mitzvah to observe with extra-special care. And, even one Mitzvah that you do whole heartedly can be your winning ticket to Olam Haba (Sefer Charedim Perek Chivat EY; Rambam end of Mishnayot Makkot).

In learning, as well, connecting is extremely important. Rav said,  אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שליבו חפץ A person learns only what his heart desires, as we see in the Passuk כי אם בתורת ה’ חפצו .  (Avodah Zarah 19a) One of the greatest causes for people to leave learning, to lose its sweetness, is that for too long, they learnt only parts of Torah that they did not connect to. This is because they never looked inward at what speaks to them, but only outward, to what everyone else was learning.

Let us take this to a drone’s eye view. There are three areas in religion. White. Black. And Grey. White is the area of the things that you are commanded to do. Black is the area of things that you are commanded not to do. They are both חובה, mandatory.  The grey area, the area of רשות, optional, is the area where all of our spiritual dilemmas are found. Black and white are so easy. Open up the Torah, and there it is. But the grey area is just not clear. How long to pray? How long to learn? How much Hishtadlut and how much Emunah? How much time to spend on any specific Mitzvah? How much Chessed should I do, for whom and in which way? What is the right balance, in so many areas of life? How far beyond the letter of the law should I take my Torah observance? What should I focus on in my learning? Halacha? Aggadah/Mussar/Character refinement?

Most people solve grey questions by looking around and seeing what other people are doing. But this is a huge mistake. The Chassid Yaavatz says something that can blow your mind. The hardest question for the Faithful Jew to answer is Tzaddik v’ra lo, rasha v’tov lo – “Why do good things happen to bad people, and why do bad things happen to good people?” There are many answers to this question; each one has its time and place. But the Chassid Yaavatz says that the answer, most of the time, is that a person is judged according to what he could do. You can have a Tzaddik who is suffering, because he can do much more than he is doing. And you can have a Rasha who is rewarded greatly, because, for who he is, that is all he can do!!!(See לעבדך באמת R Dov Yaffeh zt’’l, page שלה)

לא תתורו אחרי לבבכם and הלך אחר לבך  are telling us the biggest lesson in life. Go inward, go toward your C3. Focus on what you Connect to. Gauge yourself by what you Can do. And invest in your unique Character strengths, something we learn from Navot.

Navot HaYizraeli had a beautiful vineyard next to King Achab’s palace. King Achab coveted Navot’s vineyard and asked Navot if he could buy it for a heavy price; or, he would barter it for a much better vineyard, somewhere else. But Navot refused, saying that this vineyard was a family inheritance and he did not want to part with something that was so dear to his family, no matter the price. King Achab came home very upset, and his wife, Queen Izebel, asked what was wrong. He answered her, telling her how Navot had turned down his offer. Izebel then framed Navot, saying that he cursed King Achab and the Name of G-d. She hired false witnesses, had Navot killed, and took his vineyard for her husband.  (Melachim א 21;2)

Our Rabbis ask, why was Navot HaYizraeli punished in this way? Because he had a beautiful voice.  He would go up to the Beit Hamikdash for the Holidays and sing in G-d’s honor. This had become such an attraction that many people made the pilgrimage, just in his merit. One year, though, Navot stayed home, out of fear that while he was gone, someone would loot his vineyard. His punishment was death, and that his field be taken from him

Why was Navot punished so severely for not singing in the Beit Hamikdash? Shlomo Hamelech taught   כַּבֵּ֣ד אֶת־יְ֭קֹוָק מֵהוֹנֶ֑ךָ Honor Hashem from your wealth. (Mishlei 3;9) What does that mean to honor Hashem “from your wealth”? Our Rabbis learn, אל תקרי מהונך אלא מחינך, Don’t read this passuk to mean to honor Hashem with your money. Learn it to mean that you are to honor G-d with what He graced you with(See Rashi ibid.). If He has given you a pleasant voice, honor Him with that (see Pesikta Rabti 25; see Kaf HaChaim 54).

This sheds light on understanding our Tafkid, our unique mission in this world, our calling. Focusing on others’ strengths leaves us feeling weak. Focusing on our own strengths is what makes us strong. One of the greatest regrets in life is realizing that you lived a life that others wanted you to be, rather than being yourself. And one of the greatest joys in life is the joy of celebrating your uniqueness, the original and authentic you.   .שְׂמַ֧ח בָּח֣וּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶ֗יךָ Our Rabbis teach that the saving grace for Kohelet is how King Solomon ends the statement. וְדָ֕ע כִּ֧י עַל־כָּל־אֵ֛לֶּה יְבִֽיאֲךָ֥ הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּֽט Know that whatever you do in life, you will have to answer up to Heaven that you have done your best, and you have used G-d’s gifts to serve Him (Vayikra Rabba 28a).

Never forget these words of King Solomon. You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.

About the author, Yosef

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