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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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‘Personally Unique’

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Phil and Mike were part of a team of construction workers building a skyscraper in the middle of the city. When it was time for their lunch break they sat down together with their feet dangling twelve stories from the ground. Phil opened his lunch box and peered in, “Peanut butter and jelly?! Again peanut butter and jelly! I have had enough! If I get peanut butter and jelly again tomorrow, so help me I’m going to jump right off this structure.” Mike then opened his lunch box and peered in, “Tuna fish?! Again Tuna fish! I can’t take it anymore. If I have tuna fish for lunch one more time I’m going to jump off with you.”

The next day when it was time for their lunch break, the duo sat down together and opened their lunch boxes. Phil was aghast, “Peanut butter and jelly again! That’s it!” With that he leapt off the building. Mike then looked in his lunch box. “Tuna fish again! That’s it!” And before anyone could stop him, he too jumped off the building.

The families decided to hold a joint funeral for Phil and Mike. Before the eulogies began Mike’s wife walked up to his casket sobbing, “Michael, I didn’t know you didn’t like peanut butter and jelly. If I would have known I never would have given it to you for lunch.” With that she walked away crying bitterly. Then Phil’s wife walked over to his casket, “Phillip… you made your own lunch every day!”

It sounds like a silly inane joke. But perhaps there is more truth to the joke then it may seem. The sefer Sha’ar Bas Rabim[1] relates a powerful insight: He explains that every person wants to be created exactly as he/she is created. Before a soul descends into the body of a newborn baby, it is shown what it needs to rectify and what its unique role will be while it is alive in this world. The soul then decides what it requires – i.e. its familial, social, economic, intellectual, and physical state, and G-d responds accordingly.

Thus when challenges arise in life and one questions G-d, “Why me? How could You do this to me?” the question is really misdirected. In truth it is not G-d who has determined the situation, but rather the person himself, from the pure vantage point of heaven, before descending into this world. Essentially, we make our own lunch.

The Torah instructs (22:5), “A woman shall not wear the garments of a man, and a man shall not wear the dress of a woman, for it is an abomination of Hashem, your G-d, anyone who does these things.”

Targum Yonason explains the verse: “The clothing of tzitzis and tefillin, which are affixed for men, should not be donned by women… for it distances one from before Hashem, your G-d, anyone who does these things.”

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l commented that the Torah is reminding us that each person has his own mission to fulfill in life. For one person performing a certain task can be extremely holy, while for another person performing that same task can be considered an abomination. Every person needs to foster feelings of joy and appreciation for his own uniqueness and abilities. How can one compare himself to another if his role is so vastly different? A man needs the constant spiritual injections of holiness that are garnered through wearing tefillin and tzitzis. A woman however, does not require those measures[2], and therefore for her to wear tefillin and tzitzis can be deemed an abomination.

There are many conscientious students in school who struggle with the notion that their peers have superior scholastic acumen than they do. They work and struggle much harder for grades and do not score as well as others who achieve high grades with minimal effort. Those students must be taught that G-d gives every person what he needs. [Truthfully, those who are trained to struggle and expend effort to reach levels of success are better suited and prepared for the challenges of life. Often it is the students who did not have to work hard during their formative years who are in for a rude awakening when they step into “the real world.”]

As we go through life we must constantly remind ourselves of the veracity of this concept. We are created with the gifts and tools we need, and therefore it is foolish to compare ourselves to others.

It is well-known that Mazal Tov is an expression of congratulations among Ashkenazic Jews. At a wedding, bar mitzvah, bris milah, and even when one purchases a new home or is honored at a dinner, we wish the celebrators Mazal Tov.

The origin of the expression is unclear[3]. Moreover, the meaning of the expression is perplexing. Mazal is commonly defined as luck, thus mazal tov means good luck. It would seem that luck has nothing to do with congratulations. Why then, do we wish people mazal tov at every joyous event?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt’l[4] explained that defining mazal as luck is a misnomer. Rather, mazal refers to a person’s unique purpose in this world. Because a person’s economic status, or health, is a matter of mazal. Mazal then is a matter of fulfilling one’s tafkid, his unique purpose in the world. Wealth, poverty and illness are all examples of tools that a person must utilize to fulfill one’s tafkid.

Therefore, whenever a person is blessed with something new we wish him mazal tov. Essentially, we are blessing the person that he utilizes the new commodity – an honor, a new home, or reaching a milestone – to further the fulfillment of his tafkid. At a wedding too, we bless the newlyweds that each should utilize their newfound union to further their personal and joint growth in fulfilling their destinies in life.

The month of Elul is devoted to preparing for the imminent Days of Judgment. The Shelah HaKadosh writes the well known mnemonic that Elul alludes to the verse[5], “Ani ldodi vdodi li- I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me.”

Our first task during Elul is to appreciate the first word of the verse, “ani – I.” One must understand his own greatness and then realize that G-d created him in that manner because that is what he needs for optimal growth.

It is only with this cognizance that one can commence the process of repentance. If one does not realize his own value and how much G-d loves him, he will hardly want – or feel worthy – to build a connection with G-d.

Every person has to do his/her best with the cards he/she has been dealt with. It helps to remember that we were the ones to deal the cards we have been dealt, the life we have been endowed with, before we descended into this world. G-d grants us what we felt we need to help serve Him in the optimal manner possible throughout our lives.

[1] Parshas Vayishlach, on the pasuk “shalchayni ki ala hashachar” in a footonote, based on a quote from the gemara Rosh Hashanan (11a)

[2] Women have certain levels of innate holiness that men do not possess. That is part of the reason why they recite the beautifully worded blessing that G-d “has created me according to His Will”. Men require greater levels of growth before they can reach a level of “according to His Will”. But that is a lengthy discourse that cannot be conveyed in a footnote.

[3] It does not appear in the gemara, rishonim, or early acharonim.

[4] Michtav MaEliyahu chelek 4, p.98, in the footnote

[5] Shir Hashirim 6:3

About the Author: Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as Guidance Counselor and fifth grade Rebbe in ASHAR, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. He can be reached at stamtorah@gmail.com. Visit him on the web at www.stamtorah.info.


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