Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest person who ever lived. In addition to leading the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim, Moshe also received the Torah on Har Sinai directly from Hashem. He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, surpassing all human boundaries and limitations, and the Torah itself testifies that no one reached the level of prophecy that Moshe was able to attain. And yet, the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 5:2) says something absolutely shocking. He states that everyone is capable of becoming a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu. How is this possible? It seems improbable that all of us have the potential to become leaders, let alone the greatest human being of all time. So, what does the Rambam mean by this statement?
Are we all capable of greatness? This question arises in another context as well. In its account of our experience as a fetus in the womb, the Gemara (Niddah 30b) includes the cryptic statement that just before each of us is born, we are forced to take an oath that we will become a tzaddik. Once again, we face a problem. An oath is a promise, a guarantee. How can we promise that we’ll be a tzaddik? Are we all cut out to be great, to be a tzaddik? How can we explain this strange Gemara? To understand this topic, let us begin by returning to the beginning of this Gemara.
Your Origin Story
The beginning of this Gemara is a familiar one. It is the same one that discusses the unique journey of the fetus in the womb: While we were in the womb, a malach taught us all of Torah. As the Vilna Gaon explains, this refers to the deepest realms of Torah, a transcendent Torah that lies far beyond this world, beyond the realm of space and time. This Torah is the very root of reality, and you were granted complete understanding of its every detail. Not only were you shown this level of Torah, but you also learned your specific share of Torah. You were shown your unique purpose in the world, and how your unique role fits into the larger scheme of the human story. You were given a taste of your own perfection, of what you could, should, and hopefully will become. And from this transcendent realm, you were birthed into the physical world with the mission to actualize everything you were shown in the womb, while in your primordial, perfect state.
We are each endowed with a unique potential, and everything in life, down to the smallest detail, is here to help us fulfill that potential. Many people are unhappy with the life they have, constantly comparing it to that of others, always searching for a reason to complain. If we understood that we were each given a unique package uniquely designed for us, we would find so much more joy in life. Your body is the exact body you need to carry you through this world. Your psychological clothing, which includes your intellect, imagination, memory, emotions, and personality, were perfectly crafted and designed for you and your unique role in this world. You were born into a specific family at a specific time period, were sent to a specific school, in a specific community, and were exposed to a particular set of social influences. All of these things make up your unique package, setting the stage for your journey through life.
Everything is there only to help you grow and become the person you were meant to become, to manifest what you were shown in the womb. Your job isn’t to become great, it’s to become you! That is true greatness.
Many people struggle to find their tafkid, their purpose, because they’re looking in the wrong place. You can’t find your role by looking outside, you can only find it by looking deeper inside, within yourself. We need to ask ourselves: What drives me? What makes me unique? What are my talents? What are my passions? What can I contribute to the Jewish people and the world as a whole? The only comparison one should make is with one’s past. One should ask: “Am I better than the person I was yesterday?” or “How can I move forward and become a slightly better version of myself today?”
The Antidote to Jealousy
We can now understand why comparison and jealousy are illogical and pointless. If each of us is unique, how can we compare ourselves to anyone else? As Einstein famously said, “If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it’s foolish.” We cannot compare ourselves to someone else, as we are completely different people. If we genuinely understood this, we would never be jealous. Once we realize that everything in our life is exactly what we need to fulfill our unique potential, we’ll stop looking at what other people have, and start utilizing what we ourselves have. To take it a step further, we can begin to be happy for other people’s success, as we will realize that we aren’t competing with each other; we’re all on the same team, part of the cosmic symphony of life. Our ear would never be jealous of our hand, since they’re both part of the same body; so too, if we realized that we’re all part of the same “body,” we would never be jealous of anyone else.
We can now return to our original question. The term “tzaddik” does not refer to an objective image of greatness, rather a tzaddik is one who fulfils his or her role and actualizes their unique potential. Tzedek means “correct” and refers to the concept of truth. Becoming a tzaddik means living your truth and bringing your unique potential into actuality. When we each made an oath to become a tzaddik, we each promised to fulfill our unique role in this world.
Find Your Unique Mission
We each have a unique mission. Some of us will be on the front lines, while others will make an impact behind the scenes. Both are tzaddikim, both are fulfilling their unique role. As Rav Elchanan Wasserman explains in his Ma’amarim, when the Rambam states that each of us can be a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu, he specifically uses the word tzaddik. We may not be able to become as objectively great as Moshe, but we can become as great on our personal scale; just as Moshe fulfilled his unique potential, so too, we can each fulfill our unique potential.
It’s time to take the next step in our journey through life. We need to stop holding ourselves back from our own greatness. We have greatness within us, and it is our responsibility to bring that greatness to the world! For in truth, we can all become a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu.