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Self Fulfillment

Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

Actualizing your potential by emulating God.

"Wealth brings anxiety, but wisdom brings peace of mind."
    --  Rabbi Ibn Gevirol

"Hi. I'm a doctor, what are you?"
"I'm a lawyer, what are you?"
"I'm a chocolate chip cookie eater, what are you?"

In truth, I am anything but a lawyer or a doctor. I don't even want to be thought of as one. I am an individual. I'm me!

There is no other person in the world like you. In fact it's virtually impossible to put into words who you are. Words already make a comparison. There are no words to describe your unique type of kindness, friendship or love.

If you introduce yourself to other people as a "lawyer," then you take what is unique to you and disregard it. It is dangerous to define yourself as something you do from 9-to-5 (or any other time of the day). To think of yourself in terms of any single activity is to severely hamper your self-image. Comparing yourself with all other lawyers is making a clear statement: "I am not a person, I am a career."

Unfortunately, it's a problem we develop early in life. Every child is asked: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's a question fraught with subtle implications, extremely damaging to the developing personality of a child. Isn't the child who is asked that question going to grow up thinking: "What's wrong with being 'me?' Is 'me' so terrible that I have to 'become' something different when I grow up?"


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Many of us have spent the last 20-30 years trying to "be" somebody. Now we are starting to ask "Who am I?" Maybe, we are thinking, this whole rat race of "being somebody" isn't worth it. Maybe I am somebody valuable already, I don't need to be anybody else.

Hillel, the great Torah sage, said, "If I am only for myself, who am I" (Pirkei Avos 1:14). This is to say, if I ask the question "Who I should be?" I will eventually have to ask the question "What am I?"

Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" reflects the values of Western society. In Judaism, "To be or not to be" is not the question. Rather, "What to do and what not to do" - that is the Jewish question.

Judaism says that only through "doing" will a person "be." In other words, the more we do, the more we become.

It is important to understand that "becoming more" is not defined in terms of man hours or production, but rather in terms of direction and purpose. The greater our purpose, the greater we become.


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"...their idols are of silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have a mouth, but cannot speak. They have eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear... Those who make them will become like them, all that trust in them. Israel trusts in God..." (Psalm 115)

It is a natural consequence that whatever you believe in, like that thing you will become. Whatever you imagine as the highest expression of life is what you will idealize, imitate, seek and desire. If you think movie stars and professional athletes are the epitome of life, then it is they who you will emulate. If you hold them in high esteem because of their ability to toss a ball, then you will define your own life as well by such demeaning definitions. If shallow people are your idols, then shallow will you be.

The path of idol worshipers leads them to become like their idol. The idol has eyes, but sees nothing. The idol worshiper also has eyes, but sees nothing. Such people miss the beauty and meaning of life. How can someone who thinks a piece of wood or stone is the source of all life comprehend how rich and deep life really is? What you "become" results from what you think is at the source of all life. If you think the source of your energy is a dollar, then you'll become a hedonist.

It is no wonder, therefore, that in a world of rampant materialism, many people have no more depth than the money they believe will solve all their problems.


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The greater our purpose in life, the greater we become.

To find fulfillment, a person needs guidelines and a strategy. The quest for purpose and meaning requires far more tools than is necessary to achieve emptiness. The laws of physics tell us that all bodies follow the path of least resistance. Therefore, since we are physical beings, we need a very effective strategy to break away from the "easy yet meaningless" path.

If on the other hand, you think that the All Powerful, Eternal, God of infinite understanding and care, is the source of life, then layer after layer of depth, wisdom, beauty and splendor is there for you to hear and see.

To reach those depths, we need tools. This is why the Torah - in this week's parsha (Deut. 28:9) - tells us to emulate God. This technique enables us to see the world with a "God like" vision.

Ask yourself: What would God do if He was in your position? Which path would He choose? This identification with God enables you to raise yourself up out of life's pettiness. It gives you a perspective that is impossible to achieve when you are trying to emulate a movie star.

If we are striving for the greatest "being" we can be, it has to be a "being like God." Such an achievement simply cannot be topped. How can a person be greater than that?

If the source of life is some primordial soup, then all a person can become is a great chef. But if the source is God Himself, then there is no limit to a person's reach.


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Question 1: Does success and failure affect your self-image?

Question 2: What would give you a more positive self-image?

Question 3: Who do you idolize? Is this an uplifting role model?

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