Contact Us

Similarly Different

Similarly Different

The inner meaning of Shavuot

 Email

"Look, Ellie, same!" cries Davy, waving a bright blue crayon back and forth excitedly. A little girl with blond hair looks up, and raises an identical crayon in the air. Grinning at each other in delight, they turn back to the coloring pages on the table and resume their vigorous scribbling.

On the other side of the classroom, another group of children crawl around on hands and knees playing with little toy cars. They move the cars quickly across the racetrack mat and once in a while a child bumps into someone holding "their" car. "Matching!" they call excitedly and automatically pair up as partners.

"Mom, I have to have these. Everyone's wearing them!"Fast forward ten years: Pulling the most faded and frayed pair of jeans off the rack in the dingy store, Emma turns to her mom and demands, "Mom, I have to have these. Everyone's wearing them!" Eyeing the garment distastefully, her mother tries to distract her.

"What about this, dear? It'd look lovely on you," she suggests, holding up a pretty, flowery skirt? Her daughter looks at her in absolute horror. "I can't wear that, Mom! No one's wearing that!"

Fast forward twenty years: "Al, we've got to redo the house."

"Why, dear? We've been living here happily for the past 15 years."

"But Al, the Green's down the road redid their house last year, the Gold's just finished redecorating and the Stone's are renovating and adding an entire new wing for the kids to come visit with the grandchildren!" A note of hysteria creeps into her voice.

"That's nice dear, but there's nothing wrong with our house," he answers calmly.

"You don't understand, Al. We have to renovate, everyone's doing it!"


Basic human nature compels us to look for similarities between ourselves, and seek common interests. A shared moment can lead to the cultivation of rewarding relationships, providing a starting point, a means of communication between two otherwise unaffiliated individuals.

Similarities give us a sense of belonging, a feeling of community. Indeed, we see peer-pressure surface in all facets of society, regardless of age, race or culture. Few are immune to the desire to belong.

Yet as much as we strive for this "sameness" and go to great ends to achieve it, another trend has become increasingly popular. The desire to be "different," "unique," and "individual". The means employed by those of us wishing to bring this aspiration to fruition, far supersedes that of those of us looking for conformity.

We try to distinguish ourselves in some way, to stand out, to be "someone"How often do we hear the all too familiar whine, "That's boring, everyone does it," or "I just want to be different!"? From little kids who insist on wearing short sleeves and sandals in the middle of winter, to teenagers willing to sport the most outlandish hair styles and adults who cannot possibly use the same décor for their parties - we all try to distinguish ourselves in some way, to stand out, to be "someone."

For many, this quest for individuality has become an all-encompassing aspiration, a passion, almost a religion. But do we really want to distinguish ourselves from the community we live in? Must our unique self-expression come at the cost of isolation?


The period of time between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot is known as Sefirat HaOmer, literally, counting the Omer. During this period of time, beginning at the Exodus from Egypt and culminating with the revelation at Mt. Sinai forty-nine days later, the Jewish people counted each day in preparation for receiving the Torah.

On one level, the counting demonstrated their excitement and anticipation of the upcoming event. On another deeper level, the Jewish people used each day to elevate and refine themselves to the level requisite to merit the revelation on Mt. Sinai.

The human personality is composed of seven basic characteristics: Kindness, Discipline, Compassion, Devotion, Endurance, Bonding, and Dignity. Different measures and doses of each of these account for our individual and unique personalities.

During each day of the Omer, we - just as the Jews in the desert - refine one particular combination of these seven characteristics. Beginning with "kindness within kindness," followed by "discipline within kindness," "compassion within kindness" and so on, we as individuals should be using this time to repair any flaws in our makeup.

At the same time, we should also be focusing on our individual strengths, and exploring ways they can be used to benefit the greater community. When the Nessiim, the heads of the tribes (Nassi in singular), brought sacrifices in the sanctuary, the Torah repeats the details of the offering 12 times, once for each Nassi, even though they each brought identical offerings. This teaches us that although the offering was identical, each Nassi infused the offering with his individual talents and gifts.

Each Nassi infused the offering with his individual talents and giftsWhen the Jewish people left Egypt, they were a group of divided, and sometimes bickering, individuals. In seven short weeks of intense preparation, they managed to become a cohesive unit, an undivided nation. When the Torah writes of the Jews arrival at the mountain, it uses the singular verb, "and he camped," as opposed to the expected, "and they camped" (Shemot 19:2). The commentator Rashi explains this phenomenon by saying, "They were like one people, with one heart." So united were the Jews at this time, they were considered like one person, a comprehensive whole.

This level of utter cohesion can only be achieved when we recognize and appreciate the differences in others, when we overlook each other's weaknesses and embrace our strengths and similarities, when the unison is greater than the divide. Yes, we are individuals, each with our own personality and traits, which we must utilize to the fullest, but at the same time, we must move beyond our celebration of self for the benefit and unity of the greater whole.

As we move through this period of self-improvement, approaching the festival of Shavuot, let us ask ourselves: Are we expressing our individuality in positive, healthy ways, using the particular talents and characteristics G‑d has imbued us with? For we, the Jewish people, should aspire and work toward the ultimate unity, which was realized at the time of the revelation when the entire nation camped "as one people with one heart" and will again be realized at the time of the final and ultimate redemption.

Miriam Szokovski is the author of the historical novel Exiled Down Under, and a member of the Chabad.org editorial team. She shares her love of cooking, baking and food photography on Chabad.org’s food blog, Cook It Kosher.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
10 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Goldiemae Omaha, NE - Nebraska June 17, 2011

A Great Explanation When I first read the title of this article, I thought to myself, it's got to be an oxymoron. How can we be similar and different at the same time? But the way you explained it all was so profound and beautifully exemplified. Yes, we can be individuals, and yet follow the crowd, especially when the crowd is united in worthwhile ventures and good worship. This was very uplifting! Thank you! Reply

Anonymous cordoba, argentina April 21, 2011

nice! ì agree with the comments above!! Reply

hinda jerusalem, Israel June 2, 2008

brilliant brilliant as usual Reply

Rishe Deitsch June 1, 2008

Miriam Szokovski's article Most peope at some point find themselves torn between the desire/need to conform and the desire/need to remain true to themselves. Both pulls have merit. Reply

Vardi Jacobs Melbourne, Australia June 3, 2007

Miriam, a beautiful piece of writing, thoughtful, insightful and inspiring.
You have a way with words. Great job! Reply

Anonymous May 27, 2007

A beautifully written article, thought- provoking and so descriptive. More articles please Miriam! Reply

Chany Vaknin May 22, 2007

Very nice! Reply

M.S. West Bloomfield, MI via theshul.net May 22, 2007

What a beautiful, well written article!

Hope to see more in the future!! Reply

Meira Kaner May 21, 2007

a nice piece! Reply

C.S. May 20, 2007

Great article, beautifuly wirtten and so true too. We want more of your articles Miriam! Reply