Vayeitzei: The Individual "I"

My wife and I were talking over lunch the other day, and somehow (don’t ask) professional wrestling came up (I told you not to ask).  I was reminiscing over the famous match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant in Wrestle Mania III.  I tried to depict the emotion of all the viewers as Hulk Hogan lifted Andre the Giant into the air (a feat not possible by a mere human) and body slammed him, bringing Hulk Hogan the much-deserved victory.  My wife could not believe that any man could possibly remember such “foolishness”.  Being that I was not sure which Wrestle Mania it was, I quickly called my friend Uri (of course), who confirmed that it WAS Wrestle Mania III.  He then got all nostalgic and told me exactly which friends came over to watch the match on Pay Per View and who else was wrestling.  My wife, the cultural oaf, could not believe what she was hearing, “How could ANYBODY enjoy talking about two men, with greased up bodies, rolling around on the ground together in THEIR UNDERWEAR!!!??”


I must be honest.  When the question is put in that wording, it IS rather difficult to give a good answer.


But that’s because she’s a woman, and simply cannot understand.


This week’s parsha is a rather … dark parsha.  I don’t know why; I just feel this darkness.  Yaakov is forced into exile.  He has nothing to support him.  He arrives at his uncle’s home in tatters and begins to rebuild his life amoungst the “thief of thieves”.  You see clearly that he is working hard under difficult circumstances.


However, throughout the many years of work and living away from his spiritual and physical support system, Yaakov came out of it whole.  He not only remained “frum”, but he also grew from the experience.


I take 15 minutes a day to learn a little “Kuntres Chovat HaTalmidim” by Rav Kalonymus Shapira, the Rebbe of Piaseczno, otherwise known as the “Warsaw Ghetto Rebbe”.  He wrote:


“Both haughty and weak-willed students, both students who are stubborn and rebellious and those who are falsely humble, will come to the same end… we cannot hope to see any benefit emerge from any of them – not even one small ray of light.  They deceive themselves in darkness, they will degenerate together in gloom and darkness…


“What they are missing is the Jewish sense of the worth, the “I”. This is their illness…Because of this their whole self has been broken and trampled on.  They are like a ship without a captain, which is tossed in the waves by every gale, and in the end sinks to the bottom of the sea.  So too every evil wind in the world affects their course, as if they were drifting and directionless, and every plague and disease in the world infects them.  If the foolish spirit of sin, haughtiness, arrogance, or hatred of the holy should pass through the world, they are broken by its force”


It's a very powerful statement.  I could not help to think of some of the baalei tshuva that I have met in life, who took their individual strengths, whether in speaking, in art, in music, etc… and stuffed it away in some corner, in order to be a “replica” of whichever frum circle they wish to become part of, thinking that that is the “frum” thing to do, and only through that, would they be fully accepted.


In the end, these people suffer greatly.  They have no “I”.  They have no self-confidence, because they became used to never standing up (not in rebellion, of course) and using their G-d given talents for good.  Instead of focusing on serving Hashem, their lives revolve around fitting in. And, I’ve seen this many times: whatever nonsense is blowing in the winds of their particular community, or in the world at large,  they fall prey to is as well, without any thought.  And worse, without wanting to think.


Yaakov was not like that.  His mission in life was not to simply fit in.  HE had a mission.  HE had a goal.  HE had his individual strengths that he was going to use to achieve that goal.  And even though he lived in exile, surrounded by dishonest people, he overcame and persevered.


Jewish life is certainly communal.  It’s supposed to be.  And each community has their standards that need to be kept.  But one thing that many learned (or were supposed to learn) over this past year, is that there is an obligation of the “I”.  That each person needs to be focused on THEIR goals and to acknowledge and use THEIR individuality.  If we consider ourselves nothing by cogs in “the machine”, it is inevitable that we will simply rust away.  But, if we know what we want in our lives and use our “I” to accomplish it, we will have endless growth.


Have a wonderful Shabbos!