Anne aspired to work in the modeling field. She realized, however, that even if she lost the requisite pounds, she couldn’t grow the necessary inch. Her face, too, while striking and exotic, lacked the symmetry that defined conventional beauty.
Sam was a bright boy who loved exploring. He wished he could consistently bring home excellent grades, but Sam didn’t do well in a conventional classroom setting. Despite his enormous potential, Sam stopped believing in himself and stopped trying.
Our society is full of boxes and conformist qualities necessary to achieve specific ideals. There’s the ideal version of beauty . . . the ideal version of success . . . the ideal student . . . the ideal candidate for the ideal career.
Sometimes we may feel that in order to succeed in Jewish life, too, we need to have specific, in-the-box types of characteristics. To be able to achieve greatness, don’t we need to be a “spiritual” person, who loves to study, pray and meditate? Don’t we also need to be community-minded and generous?
But what about those of us who don’t naturally have these requisite characteristics? What if we have a quirky personality or a unique disposition that isn’t one-size-fits-all?
This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, begins with the sentence: “These are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham—Abraham fathered Isaac.”
Rashi explains that the double wording teaches us that Isaac looked exactly like Abraham. This was remarkable, because our features and expressions generally reflect our personality, but in character Isaac was almost diametrically opposite of his father. Abraham was the ultimate uninhibited extrovert, passionately overflowing with benevolence and pursuing a lifelong campaign for social justice. Isaac, on the other hand, was the definitive introvert, a gentle soul who had a rich but restrained inner life and spent time digging deeper within his reality.
Our first two patriarchs were almost polar opposites in personality and life’s pursuits. And yet, both were committed, in their differences, to dedicate their traits to the service of their Creator. Both became the great fathers of our nation, imbuing us with their respective necessary characters and ideals.
In contrast, the Midrash describes the guest house in the corrupt city of Sodom. The beds were all one size, and any guest too tall would have his feet chopped off, while anyone too short was painfully stretched.
While this sounds cruel, don’t many of our communities today behave similarly on a conceptual level, stretching or shrinking what doesn’t fit our boxes? Don’t we, too, ostracize or condemn to mediocrity those who don’t fit with our one-sized conformist ideas or ideals?
The Torah is teaching us, the children of our patriarchs, an essential message.
In Judaism, there is no one path that fits all. Diversity is positive. We each can provide our own inimitable contribution.
And we each need to cultivate our uniqueness as human beings to forge our own distinctive path in our service of our Creator.