IN LOVING MEMORY OF REUVEN BEN SARA AND CHANA BAT HENYA
Being Me / Dissipating Stress
One never gets burned out from being himself. “Burn-out” happens when a person tries to be someone he is not, and then finds that it is impossible! The Hebrew word for stress is מתח. This word מתח is also used when describing a stretched rope – מתוח. Stress is the outcome of someone stretching himself too much or too far and even then, not reaching his goal.
The best way to dissipate stress is to accept ourselves as we are and stop trying to be people we are not. The world today has become stressful as never before, with more tension than oxygen. So many people have convinced themselves that if they would only be rich, famous, good looking, humorous or like their successful sibling, popular colleague or assistant, then the good times would start. As we will soon see, that just may be when the good times are over.
Using Chanukah as a springboard we might wonder concerning the fate of the Hashmonai family. After their victory, this family of Kohanim ascended the throne, assuming kingship over the Jewish people. For taking the throne, each of the four holy and pious sons of Mattityahu fell in war. The Talmud (B. Batra 3b) tells us how the Hashmonean rule ended, and how the Herodian period begun. The story is of Hordus, slave of the Hashmonai royal family. One day Hordus laid his eyes on one of the Hashmonai princesses. Soon after, he heard a Heavenly voice call out “Any servant who presently rebels will succeed”. Hordus took the opportunity to kill all of the Hashmonai family, leaving behind the princess he wanted to marry. Once the girl realized that the former slave, Hordus, wanted to make her his queen, she climbed to the rooftop and cried out- “Anyone who claims that he belongs to the house of Hashmonai is nothing more than a servant, for all the Hashmonai kohanite family perished”. This girl, the last member of the Hashmonai family, then leaped to her death.
The Ramban in this weeks parasha (49,10) writes the reason for the punishment of the priestly family. On his death bed, Yaakov blessed Yehuda ”the royal staff should not be passed (to another) from Yehuda”. The Hashmonaim priests had an obligation to offer sacrifices in theTemple and not to sit on the royal throne. The throne is reserved for Yehuda. Despite the holiness and piousness of such a family, they were not meant to rule the Jewish people. The throne is reserved for descendants of Yehuda, alone.
R’ Chaim Chechik zt”l, close student of the Alter from Novardok, writes in regard to this Ramban, that every person has a place, mission, and plan custom tailored for him in his life in this world. Once someone tries to be someone else who is seemingly “G-d gifted”, then he will not have Heavenly support or assistance in being that “someone else”. Although the Torah we have today was preserved in the generation of the Hashmonaim solely in their merit, all four sons of Mattityahu, the Holy Priest, died tragically as a result of being who they were not supposed to be.
This mistake can and does happen to many people. A person who is, ostensibly, not trying to be someone else, and who denies wishing that he could have been a successful sibling or student instead of being himself, may blush during his denial. How sad it is that a person considers that there is someone with greater importance than his own. Who will be me in my place? There is, after all, only one me, and no one else can be the real me.
We see this in the Ramban, concerning the explanation of the transgression of kilayim, crossbreeding.(Vayikra 19:19) The reason G-d forbade crossbreeding is because He created the species with genetic identity to exist till the End of Time. One who crossbreeds is ruining G-d’s Creation ; it is as if he thinks that G-d made (chas veshalom) an incomplete world. Each and every blade of grass has a Mazal in the Heavens that taps it and directs it to grow (Breishit Rabba 10; 6). The Universe is run with the utmost precision and Divine Intervention. By trying to be someone else we are in essence saying – (chas veshalom) G-d, your world isn’t perfect. You made a mistake with me.
R’ Yerucham Levovitz z’’l takes this a step further. If someone does succeed in being someone else, he may not survive. Fish need to reside in water at all times to live. Other animals would die in such conditions. And a fish on land would die if he had too much fresh air. This demonstrates that the source of life is neither air nor water. The true source is a Supernatural G-d.
When someone tries to be like someone else, he is leaving his “source of support from Heaven”. This is not how G-d made him/her. They may never survive in such conditions. G-d created this feeling of stress for a person to help him discover if he is being himself or someone else.
If we search for the source of such a drive to be someone who we are not, it is not always an inside drive to be different. Rather, a parent/ teacher/spouse can be the cause for one to act like someone who they are not. Sometimes, unintentionally, a parent or teacher can praise a child or student in front of siblings or classmates. This lavish praise can cause low self esteem for the others present who hear it. The others can, either consciously or subconsciously, feel tremendous pressure to be like the one who was praised, often causing them a lifetime of suffering and pain.
It is so important to internalize at every spare moment G-d’s Divine Intervention and Care. Forgetting this can cause us much psychological damage. The outcome is a feeling of being left out, abandoned or forgotten. In the field of productivity, the results are even more destructive. We may never even notice in what we actually are “G-d gifted.”
In summary, living our life is like making an investment: trying to live someone else’s life is investing in a “mission impossible”. We are given everything we need to fulfill the special mission that is unique to us, and have no hope for succeeding in a job that was given to someone else.
When Yaakov was on his death bed, he blessed his sons. Each blessing was “custom designed” to fit the very essence of each one of the twelve tribes. In the blessing to Shimon and Levi, Yaakov reproved them for their attack on Shechem. “Their daggers are stolen…Cursed be their anger, for it is brazen, and their fury, for it is harsh…” (49:5) Rashi comments that Yaakov said to his sons the following: “This skill of murder (when they killed the men of Shechem) is not your essence. The “talent” of murder belongs to Esav. Esav alone was blessed by my father ‘And you should live by your sword.’ You stole the “dagger” from him.”
This is quite strange. How can it be that Yaakov saw fit to reprove his sons for their having killed the men of Shchem at the time he had chosen to bless them?
R’ Yerucham Levovitz, zt’’l, writes that this reproof was not for their having killed a whole community alone. It was reproof that they had stolen a trait that was not theirs. Murder was a penchant of Esav, not one that belonged to Yaakov’s family. Shimon and Levi behaved in a way that was antithetical to their nature. Yaakov cursed this trait of Esav, which was, in actual fact, foreign to his own clan.
We may wonder at times at how we behave, feel or think. Is this who we really are? Not necessarily. We are who we want to be. If we discover that we have acted in a way that we regard as being below our standards, it could result from the social context in which we find ourselves. We may have “stolen” negative traits from our acquaintances that are not at all the real me. Human beings are social creatures, very conscious of what others say and think about us – very anxious to please. This is why it is so important to be sure we are keeping company with people whom we respect. Unsuitable behavior can be the result of trying to please the wrong people. Yaakov was able to curse his sons’ hasty act and say this is not who you really are. This behavior was stolen from Esav .In essence this was the greatest blessing their father could give them. To dissect their negative actions from the way they identify themselves.
It is so sad when we make the mistake of deciding who we are when we are “down”. It might take a life time to figure out who the real me is. If we can only find the deepest will of me. The me that hides under the Tallit on Yom Kippur and behind the tear-stained machzor. This is probably more the essence of me than the me after sin.
There is a Rambam that can shed light on this concept. In Hilchot Teshuva (7:3) he writes Do not think that one must repent only from sinful acts, such as forbidden marital relations and thievery. It is equally important to repent from evil characteristics. We must identify, through soul searching, traits of anger, hate, jealousy, competition, immorality, chasing after money, honor and allowing ourselves overindulgence in foods. From all these traits and those similar to them one must repent. It is harder to repent from these sins of character than it is to repent from those that have an action, for if one is enmeshed in these traits, it is hard to free oneself of them …
We may ask ourselves: if these traits comprise sins, then why are they not part of the viduy (confession)? We bang our hearts and say גזלנו, that we stole, but we do not say that we are thieves, nor do we describe ourselves as people who chronically chase after money. We confess about gossip, but not about hating our brethren. We confess only actions, but do not confess to being a bad person. This is rooted in the passuk of Viduy and they shall confess their sins that they did.)Bamidbar 5;7) Why do we not confess to being bad people?
One cannot confess being a thief or a murderer, because a big part of Teshuva is saying that the evil of my actions is not my true identity. Although it could be that one acted according to the dictates of a certain trait, this certainly does not define his essence, as long as, deep down in his heart, it is not who he really wants to be. If a person stole and does not want to be a pick-pocket, then he isn’t one, as long as he compensates his victim for the loss and promises not to repeat his wrongdoing… This explains how we can ask to be written in the Book of the Righteous on the High Holidays, although we may not have acted as righteous. One can decide to be a Tzaddik; the sins that make him appear to be a Rasha do not identify who he is.
We can decide who we are despite our past. We can decide how we want to identify ourselves.
After all, a dusty diamond is not valued according to the dust…..
Shabbat Shalom, Yosef Farhi
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IN LOVING MEMORY OF REUVEN BEN SARA AND CHANA BAT HENYA