Be Yourself By Yaffa Palti
In the makeup section of a New York department store, someone who probably doesn't consider herself much of a teacher recently taught me a very important lesson.
A woman was looking at the perfumes and body lotions when her young son yelled excitedly, "Hey, mom! Look, they have chocolate-scented body lotion and perfume! Why don't you get chocolate smelling stuff?" To which she wisely responded, "Sonny, I like to eat chocolate, I don't like to wear chocolate."
Our patriarch Abraham experienced and overcame ten difficult tests in his lifetime. That is in addition to all the regular, daily hardships all human beings face. If he had only passed nine, according to our Sages, he would've come up short in his personal balance.
Doesn’t that seem a little harsh? And even unfair? At the time of the tenth nisayon (personal test), he was 137 years old. What had he accomplished to that point in his lifetime? He founded monotheism, he created a religion, he fought off the whole world – and won – he taught everyone who passed his way about God, he revolutionized the world just to name a few. How many of us successfully finish even one project of that magnitude? How many of us even start? And yet, if he had stopped at the age of 137 and not passed his last test he would not have fulfilled his mission in this world!
At the time of the Akeida (the Binding of Isaac, the tenth test), an angel called out from heaven "Abraham, Abraham." The Yalkut Shimoni explains the reason for the repetition. There are two Abrahams, he writes, a heavenly Abraham and an earthly Abraham. Finally, at the age of 137, the angel was informing him that the earthly Abraham matched the heavenly Abraham, and that he has fulfilled his mission in life.
Each child, when born, is created with two images: an earthly image (the person we see and know) and a heavenly image (the person we can become). Our goal in life is to get these two images to meet and match.
So how do we find our heavenly match?
There's a famous statement from our Sages: Kol Hamekayem nefesh achas b'Yisrael, k'eelu kiyam olam malei (Whoever saves or stabilizes one Jewish soul, it's like he has saved a whole world).
Each person is an olam (world), meaning each individual’s unique talents, personality, emotional make-up and spiritual inclinations. It's a complex universe in there. It's sensitive, fragile, vulnerable and powerful. It's made up of the emotional, the physiological, the physical, the psychological and many other elements. These qualities are inborn and natural.
I once heard Rabbi Leib Keleman explain the two types of personality traits each person owns, moral/immoral traits and amoral traits.
In the moral/immoral category are things in our character we can change. For example, a person can increase their potential for altruism, kindness, patience and a person can uproot traits like selfishness, cruelty, anger.
In the amoral category are things that are immutable, such as artistic or mathematical inclinations. These cannot change. Although we can recognize and channel whatever artistic potential we have, we cannot become something or someone we're not.
A few years ago I bought a bottle of shampoo. It didn't take long for me to realize that the bottle was not waterproof. Every time it got wet the red and blue ink on the bottle ran down the sides and into my fingernails. After a few uses, I was no longer able to read the company of the shampoo or the usage instructions on it. I just kept hoping I was using it right. Now, why would someone make a bottle for shampoo that's allergic to water? That container should have been used for cookies, not for shampoo.
There is a significant something that each person was created for. The way to success is by using the tools we have, not by trying to use the tools we want but were not given. Trying to be someone or something we're not – instead of focusing on our own qualities – is the greatest recipe for failure.
All the traits we were gifted are neutral and can therefore be geared toward the positive or the negative. Disagreeable ones can be replaced by desireable ones and unrecognized traits of quality can be directed and developed.
Some examples: Selfishness can be turned to altruism, anger to patience, cruelty to kindness. A person has a tendency to bloodshed can become a murderer or a doctor. Or a shochet (kosher slaughterer). Or a mohel. A person born with hyperactivity can be very destructive or highly productive.
Our traits and how we use them constitute our "world" and bear witness in the next world as to well we realized our potential and individual talent.
This is our obligation and, according the “Mesilas Yesharim” (“The Path of the Just,” by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 1707-1746), our mission in life.
This is the only way for his two images to become one.
Now, we might understand why it says in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), Kol Yisrael yaish lahem chelek… L'Olam Habah (Every Jew has a portion toward the World to Come).
Shouldn’t it say B'Olam Habah (in the World to Come)?
No. Because although we each have a portion, it's not a preexisting place sitting and waiting for us. We have to create it for ourselves. I create mine, you create yours.
We gain Olam Habah by working towards it, by recognizing our own inner world and working until our two images meet.
That's what happened with Abraham. Yes, he accomplished a lot in his life. But we not only have to focus on what we've done but also on what we haven't done, because maybe we have more talents that need to be utilized.
So, my department-store teacher was right. She told her son that chocolate is for eating and not for wearing. Every individual has a particular purpose in this world. We can each accomplish that special something that no one else can. But, we can only work towards it by understanding who we are and not by trying to be someone we're not.
Want to be happy? Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
Yaffa Palti is a JWRP City Leader for Comunidad Sefardi in Mexico City, Mexico. Yaffa works as a spiritual educator and leader in Mexico City alongside her husband Rav Palti and their children.