Legend has it that there was once a man who suffered from short-term memory loss. Every night before going to sleep, he would compose a list of his clothes and their whereabouts so he wouldn’t forget to wear them the next day.
One morning as he completed his daily checaklist he exclaimed: “I don’t get it. It makes no sense. I have found, and checked off, every item on my list. Pants, check. Shirt, check. Shoes, check. But there’s one item I can’t find: myself. Where am I?”
As Rosh Hashanah looms, the same question reverberates loudly: “Where am I?” Better yet: “Who am I?” Another year has gone by and it’s time we seek our true, inner selves, beyond the superficial layers of our external “clothing.”
But what exactly should we be searching for? How does one identify one’s true, inner self?
“Most people are other people,” Oscar Wilde once wrote. “Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
In our day and age Wilde’s words ring compellingly true. Our society is filled with examples of people who have lost touch with their inner calling by attempting to become “other people.”
On Facebook, young and old alike fool themselves into believing they are better, stronger and prettier than the person they occasionally meet in the mirror. In this illusionary world, they have hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called friends.
Moreover, online tools give them a false yet dangerous sense of invincibility: only the most self-gratifying photos are posted, any adversary can be blocked, and they are able to connect and “like” celebrities and megastars as if they really have a meaningful relationship with them.
On Twitter, many are on a race to become that which they are not, and accumulate as many followers as possible, just to feel loved and valued. And as if this weren’t enough, computer games are nothing more than sophisticated fantasy outlets that give our youngsters a misleading perception that they are ninjas and snipers, entertainers and sport stars.
As a young teen struggling to find my purpose in the vastness of our world, I recall seeking the advice of my dear mentor, the world renowned scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. His poignant words have stayed with me until this very day.
“Pini,” he said affectionately,” you ask a good question. But one of its words needs to be changed: Instead of asking what you want to be, ask what you ought to be. And if you ask what you ought to be at all times, your life will be purposeful and satisfying to your inner ‘I.’ ”
He was right. In order to find and fulfill our inner selves, we ought to ask what we ought to be. And we ought to ask: Am I being true to my real self? Am I actualizing my God-given skills and talents? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities? Am I seizing the many opportunities that life is presenting to me, at every moment and in every area?
In a society that often asks “What do you want to be (when you grow up…)?” we ought to remember that if we are to find and satisfy our inner “I,” our personal desire must come second to our life duties.
It goes a step further. The search for the self must also include the search for the Divine soul we possess within. This is well expressed in a moving Rosh Hashanah prayer that declares: “All that is made shall know that You have made it; and all that is formed shall know that You have created it; and let all with a breath of life in its nostrils proclaim: God, the God of Israel, is King, and His kingdom rules over all.”
Indeed, there is an inextinguishable soul of God within every fabric of creation and within each and every one of us that demands recognition and attention. It never stops calling upon us to fulfill our Divine purpose in life with actions of goodness and deeds of kindness. And it always attempts to come forth and challenge our commitment to it and to its Maker, at every moment, in every area.
Once a year, on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, we have the rare opportunity to pause, reflect and unearth our inner “I.” Once a year we are presented with an extraordinary occasion to pay heed to our call of duty and to that which we ought to be. Once a year we are granted a new year to achieve our own purpose and realize our unique vocation.