There is a story of a teenage boy who was suffering from typical teenage angst, and went to the Rebbe for advice. He was having a difficult time and kept slipping back into situations that he knew were not right for him. He asked the Rebbe: How come G‑d didn’t just create us as angels? If He had, we would be perfect, and we wouldn’t make such mistakes and create such problems.

The G‑d wants us to be unique individuals Rebbe explained to him that G‑d doesn’t want us to be perfect; He wants us to be unique individuals who grow and learn from our experiences and mistakes. He asked the boy if he understood the difference between a photograph and a portrait.

When you want to capture a perfect replica of something you see, you take a picture. The picture can be beautiful, and is exactly what you witnessed with your eye. Yet the typical photograph costs pennies to reproduce. A portrait, on the other hand, is something that is always filled with inaccuracies. It can never be a perfect reproduction of something, like a photograph can. If anything, the better the portrait, the more creative license that went into it to bring out the meaning and color and beauty that does not always exist in the surface look.

Unlike a photograph, the portrait can sell for millions. People pay for the portrait because it is a reflection not only of the subject, but of the artist as well. That person’s creativity is part and parcel of the portrait. The Rebbe explained that the angels are G‑d’s photographs. We, however, are G‑d’s portraits.

The Torah portion that we read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, Nitzavim, begins: Atem nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem—“You are all standing this day before the L‑rd, your G‑d: the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers—every person of Israel.”

The idea is that before we head into Rosh Hashanah, we gather together as a group, as a community. When we talk about a community, the word used in the written Torah for this is kahal. But the term used in the Oral Torah is tzibbur (spelled tzaddik, beit, vav, reish).

Interestingly We head into Rosh Hashanah as a communityenough, the meaning of tzibbur, when used in the Written Torah (vayitzbor Yosef, Genesis 41:49), refers to piling and amassing diverse objects, assembling together very different things.

There is a beautiful quote from Elias Canetti, a Jewish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, that says: “Jews are different from other people, but in reality, they are most different from each other.” (Crowds and Power)

So this idea of a community is the throwing together, the assembling, of a lot of different and diverse parts.

The 17th-century Kabbalist Rabbi Nathan Nata Shapiro of Krakow explains in his work Megaleh Amukot that the word for “community” should be understood as an acronym:

Tzaddik: Tzaddikim: Righteous

Beit: Beinoni: Intermediary

Vav: And

Reish: Rasha: Not So Righteous

What is interesting here is that all of these categories exist together, and they are bound by the letter vav. Vav means “hook,” and hooks together, binds together, what comes before it with what comes after it. So it is not distinguishing between the righteous and the intermediary, and then, down there, the rasha, the wicked one. But rather, it shows that they all must coexist to be considered a tzibbur, a community.

It is easy to want to forget those who we don’t feel are worthy of our respect, who we don’t feel deserve to be included. Yet this is our reminder that everyone is part of our community, and no one can be left out or forgotten about.

The No one can be left outnumerical equivalent of the word tzibbur is equal to that for the word rachamim = 298. Rachamim is the term for empathy, and this shows us that empathy is required in order to connect to others. What does it mean to have empathy, as opposed to sympathy? Empathy is the ability to truly relate to and understand the other person as if what they are experiencing is also happening to you. It is the ability to connect on an internal level, not just an external one.

This is why the root of rachamim is rechem, a womb. Only when we feel that the other is truly a part of ourselves do we have compassion and empathy. And when we feel that the other is a part of ourselves, then we are able to deal with the differences—and the things that need help. If you are told that the baby within your womb has a problem, it is not the baby’s problem, it is your problem, and you love your baby and will do whatever you need to do to solve that problem.

So to have a community, there needs to be a feeling of interinclusion; and to truly feel like we are one united group, we need to have empathy and feel that we are all a part of one another.

But this is not as simple as deciding that I just need to work on connecting to my neighbor who is really obnoxious. Or that I need to reach out to that woman who is always so rude to me. It is far from that easy.

Nor can we look at the levels of the community in the acronym, that of the righteous, the intermediary and the not-so-righteous, and start deciding where we or others belong. Perhaps I think that I am kind of in-between, vacillating between being righteous and not being so great, and you are really pretty perfect and that guy over there is just not so great. So the three of us should get together and go golfing, and we will have formed a nice little rectified community.

It goes much deeper. It is not that you are righteous, you are the intermediary, and I am the wicked one. But rather, you are all three, he is all three, and I am all three.

We are all righteous, intermediate and wicked—all in different ways and at different times—and what forms a community is when all of our different ways join together, with empathy for the other, and unify.

When We are all righteous, intermediate and wickedwe can recognize this about ourselves and about others, then we can start to understand how we are all here to teach one another, and it is only through learning from others and teaching others that we can start to develop and grow.

This is why we read this statement, of how we all stand together before our Creator, right before Rosh Hashanah. And He knows we are not angels, because He didn’t create us to be perfect. But He did create us with the ability to connect with others and become better people. For, after all, a community is comprised of a diverse group of individuals, each with his or her own unique talents and abilities, and each an essential part of the whole.

May we be blessed to enter this new year with the ability to reveal our potential and help others reveal theirs. May it be sweet, healthy and productive!