Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )
Who you are as an individual is no accident. You were designed by an Infinite Being with extreme precision. You are you, because you were meant to be that way. You can't escape it, and if you try, you will be both unhappy and fall short of your potential.
Recently I pondered what was the most important thing for me to share with my children. I was meditating/praying for an answer. "What is it, that you, Almighty, want me to say to my kids?"
The answer (which may or may not have been from God - I don't have prophecy) was "Be yourself." That's what they need to hear from you.
So much of life is spent acting or pretending to be something you aren't. Society pushes and pulls us in so many directions that don't feel right. But we go with the flow. We don't want to stick out. We don't want to seem out of it. We want to be part of the "in" crowd.
At one point in Talmudic times, the head of the yeshiva study hall had a guard sitting outside with specific instructions: "Don't let anyone in who is insincere in any way. In order to be worthy to study God's wisdom, their insides must be like their outsides."
Although we know the Almighty does not hold back His wisdom from anyone who wants it, it is inconsistent and contradictory for His wisdom to flow into anyone who is a faker. Since the Almighty is completely one-dimensional, He is exactly what He is. In order to be fitting as a vessel for His wisdom, we need to work on being sincere, honest, and who we were meant to be.
IN THE DESERT
In the beginning of the Book of Numbers, a census is taken according to tribal affiliation. Here we see individuality being emphasized, as opposed to earlier countings of the nation which were not according to tribes, but a general count. The desert was a time and place where a specific configuration of the tribes was designed. When they traveled, they had to be in formation.
Some biblical commentaries compare this configuration of tribes (to the north, south, east and west) with the zodiac and the 12 constellations. This is an interesting point, considering that astrologically speaking, the stars and constellations have an influence on the personality you are born with.
By dwelling in a set format that emphasized each individual tribe, this enhanced the feeling of purpose and design as individual tribes. Notice how this happened in a desert, a place devoid of influences from others. It is only in a desert where you can truly be yourself.
Should you find a place to seclude yourself in order to find yourself? Absolutely, unless it causes you emotional/psychological problems. Seclusion is one of the most powerful tools for spiritual growth, and was used throughout history by prophets, kabbalists and holy people. To make sure you're using the tool correctly, it's good to have a mentor for this type of activity.
If you find it difficult to get away, you can make a space in your home for seclusion and introspection, meditation and prayer. But ultimately, the goal is to live amongst society, while retaining your integrity.
"But Rabbi," you may be thinking, "I've always heard that Judaism is community oriented." That is correct. The glory of serving the Infinite Being is increased, and the full power and holiness of the individual is only achieved with a community. We need to be apart of the lives of others. We cannot remain reclusive. We must go out into the world and make it a better place. But we can only do so if we have perfected the individual God created us to be.
Practice your trumpet alone in a room, away from others. When you have perfected your instrument and found your own music, come to the band, share what you have to offer, and join the holy orchestra.
As the great sage Hillel used to say, "If I am not for me, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?" (Avot 1:14)
Spend time this week meditating on the thought: Be yourself. Try to discover ways to make yourself more of the real you.