Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We Are Necessary!

"I am special and unique." No belief is more important to the quality of our lives than the belief in our specialness and uniqueness. To the extent that we believe that we bring an uncommon gift to the world we are able to withstand even the harshest of storms. To the extent we see ourselves as commonplace and ordinary we are vulnerable, and life's challenges can easily drive us to despair.

No person was more unique in the life of our people than the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest. At any time there was only one, and none other. As we read in the parsha of this week of Acharai Mot, only he could enter the Holy of Holies of the sacred Temple. Only he could perform the rites associated with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Only he could secure atonement for Israel's sins through properly performing the rituals required of him on that day. He had title. He had privelege. He had licence. Indeed the Kohain Gadol held an unparaleled place in Israeli society.

Yet if our sense of being special and unique is vital to our well-being it's surprising that while the Torah confers the above priveleges on the Kohain Gadol it does not do so in a very affirming way. On the contrary, the Torah begins the section in which Aharon is told of his unique entitlement by telling him "...You may not enter the Holy at any time, within the 'parochet', (the curtain separating the Holy from the rest of the Temple) and unto the 'kaporet'(the special cover) that is on the Ark, lest you die....". Only then, after telling Aharon that all year long he is forbidden from enterring the most sacred sites, with a potential punishment of death, is Aharon told that on Yom Kippur he may enter. And even their the Torah does not grant Aharon personal privelege. It simply instructs him to perform rituals, some of which will require of him to enter the place no one else is granted permission to enter. G-d does not confer the license on Aharon as due him because of his lofty personal status. It merely provides him with the means to do his job, hardly an affirmation of him as a 'great' person!

What is the Torah teaching us about the belief in our specialness and uniqueness, a belief we already claimed as necessary to sustain us when we find life difficult.

The answer is that yes, it's true, we need always to believe their is no one else exactly like us and that we bring a unique gift to the world. We are indeed special.
But that specialness is not about who we are, but rather about what we are meant to do. We each have a unique 'tafkid', task to perform, a task no one else can do, or at least no one else can do exactly as we can. Like Aharon, we too have an 'avoda', a holy rite to perform, if not on Yom Kippur then at some time equally significant not only to our personal journey, but to the completion of the destiny of our People.
The fulfillment of Israel's destiny requires us and our special contribution even as it requires the yearly service of the Kohain Gadol for its atonement. We matter, we matter absolutely. When life is hard and the challenges of our life feel overwhelming its so important that we remember that we are necessary, that we are special and unique, that we must persevere, if not for our own sake then for the sake of our People who depend on us. No one can do our job. No one can fill our place. We alone, with our unique personal make-up, are the only ones who can redeem the destiny of our People by taking on the task meant for us.

But that specialness and uniqueness, while forever giving our life meaning, must not serve to make us feel better than others or separate us from our peers. Our individual talents, gifts, and blessings, help define our personal role within our community. It would be wrong in the worst way to see those talents, gifts, and blessings as reasons to look down on others or separate us from the community and its memebers. That is why Aharon's priveleges were announced to him in a way that mitigated his sense of personal entitlement. First he was told that all year long he could no more enter the holy than any other Jew. And even the once a year he could enter, indeed because of his uniqueness and special status, should not be seen by him or the High Priests after him as making him/them somehow better than the rest of Israel. Their privelege only reflected the work of their lives, even as our privelege, be it smarts or beauty, wealth or position, is not about us qua us, but rather about our work and life's purpose.

If you think about it, many extremely talented people, and some of the most beautiful, and wealthiest suffer from depression, take drugs, compromise their lives and even commit suicide. Hollywood stories like those are the stuff of everyday news.
We often wonder how can people so blessed and so gifted feel so bad about themselves and their lives, be so self-destructive.

The secret here is that while our gifts and talents make us feel unique, they don't necessarily make us feel good. Our talents and our gifts for the most part are not earned. They are given to us. The athlete had to be born with the ability to be a basketball star, else no amount of practice would make him a professional. And the actress had to be born beautiful. Plastic surgery would not have been enough, and even then her beauty would be owed to others. The surgeon had to have the requisite IQ to succeed in his/her studies. Without the G-d given intelligence s/he would not know the career success. If one thinks about it, the gifts of ones life, and his/her talents are no reason to gloat. Only a small part is earned. If our neighbor had the same make-up as us their is no real reason to believe s/he would not do equally as well.
Indeed we often feel we fail the talents and gifts we were blessed with. It is not then surprising that we have all the tragic stories of the downfall of the rich and famous.

No, our specialness and uniqueness needs to give our life meaning not entitlement. The gifts bestowed on us provide us with a never ending source of personal purpose. They do not grant us privelege and status. After all, they are not earned.
Yet in having a unique call and challenge to our life we can forever claim a place at the table. We never have to feel we are a burden. We have a right to exist. We are necessary! There is no greater blessing than to know we are necessary!
Today, every day, no matter our circumstances, we are necessary to our People and to our world!

Shabbat Shalom
Chag Kasher V'samayach

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