A chassid once came to the Rebbe with a problem: he felt over-extended. He was employed as principal of a local day school, wrote a weekly column for the city’s Jewish newspaper, and contributed to several other publications. He was constantly being sought after for personal advice and counseling, and had also gained a reputation as a public speaker. Besides all this, he had his own family life. He told the Rebbe that he did not see how he could continue and asked the Rebbe’s advice regarding the areas on which he should cut back.

The Rebbe did not answer immediately, and the chassid thought that he was considering the options. When he did reply, however, the chassid was bewildered. “I would like you to take on new responsibilities in directing Lubavitch activities in your city,” the Rebbe requested.

“How can I?” the chassid replied. “I am overwhelmed with what I am doing at present and don’t know how I can manage without cutting back on my activities.”

“What you’re doing now,” the Rebbe answered, “you are not doing with your own powers, but with G‑d’s. G‑d is unlimited. Just as He gives you the potential to do what you are doing now, He can certainly give you the potential to undertake greater and more expanded responsibilities.”

When a person dedicates himself to G‑d’s service, he is able to redefine his personality and discover new resources within himself.

Parshas Naso

The name of this week’s Torah reading, Naso means “Lift Up.” It is always read either immediately before or after the holiday of Shavuos, highlighting how the Torah is the medium that enables a person to elevate himself. It gives him the potential to rise above the framework of mortal understanding and to relate to G‑d on His terms.

There is, however, an implicit difficulty in such a concept: Generally, when we speak of transcending our personal identity, this usually connotes letting go of our individuality; conforming to a G‑d-given code of conduct and thus abdicating our individual wills and personalities.

This is not Judaism’s approach. Judaism teaches a person how to lift his self above himself: to conduct himself in a G‑dly manner, not by forgetting about who he is and what potentials he has been given, but by using those potentials for a G‑dly purpose.

This fusion of individual effort and Divine direction is reflected in the concluding passages of this week’s Torah reading which describe the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. When glancing at these passages, one can’t help be struck by the apparent redundancy contained therein. Each leader brought an identical offering: the same number of animals, the same measure of incense, the silver bowls of the same size, and yet the account of the offerings is repeated verbatim for each leader.

The commentaries pose a question. The Torah is careful never to use an extra word or even an extra letter. Why then does it repeat the entire passage twelve times? It could have stated the passage once and then said: “These same offerings were brought by each tribal leader.”

The commentaries explain that the Torah is teaching that the sacrifices of the leaders were indeed different. Although they brought the same items, each one had a different intent. Each one saw the sacrifices as representative of the Divine service destined for his particular tribe. When bringing these offerings, he was identifying with and expressing the particular mission and nature of his ancestral heritage. The deed was the same; the spiritual commitment differed from leader to leader.

These concepts apply to every one of us. We are all going to put on similar tefillin, light similar Shabbos candles, and keep all the other universally applicable laws of the Torah. This does not, however, imply sheep-like conformity. Instead, it opens up a broad channel for each person to serve G‑d, but rather than doing it according to the whims of our fancy, we will do it on G‑d’s terms.

In other words, if we were to follow our own inspiration, one person might decide to serve G‑d through meditative prayer, another through deeds of kindness, and a third, through contemplating the oneness found in nature. Every person’s approach would be different. Each person would be relating to G‑d as he or she desires. The very beauty in that approach, however, implies a drawback, because since it is “as he or she desires,” an enormous amount of subjectivity is involved. Ultimately, the “as he or she desires,” would reveal its fundamental flaw: that it is not necessarily as G‑d desires.

When, by contrast, a person is observing the Torah and its mitzvos, he is doing what G‑d wants. Nevertheless, within that framework, he has ample — indeed, unlimited — room for self-expression, for the intent and the mode of observance are left to his choice and his initiative. Again, the same deed can mean many different things to many different people.

Looking to the Horizon

This concept of diversity within a unified approach will also be reflected with the era of the Redemption. Mashiach’s coming will not mean an end to individuality and personal expression. On the contrary, in that era, it will be apparent how every avenue of expression is truly G‑dly and was brought into being solely to express a particular dimension of His being. For the ultimate of oneness involves a simple entity’s manifestation in numerous forms.

In that era, the world will be suffused with a revelation of G‑dly light. That light will not blind us to the individual characteristics of every entity. Instead, it will enable the positive dimensions of that entity to shine forth with greater intensity.