Friday, April 26, 2013

Identity vs. Integrity

The parsha this week speaks about the migadef, the boy who cursed G-d. What caused this child to have to express himself in such an extreme way, by cursing Hashem?

The boy was born to a Jewish mother and an Egyptian father. The process of determining which tribe a person belonged to was simple; each child became an automatic member of his fathers' tribe. The customs and tribal privileges of the father were passed down to the son. 
In the case of the megadef, his father was Egyptian and therefore he had no tribe.

He didn´t belong.

This child had a real identity crises. His mother was raising him to be a good Jewish little boy, sending him to Jewish day schools, lighting an electric menorah, eating matzah at the seder table (which they video taped to show the grandchildren)... but yet, he belonged to no tribe, and therefore belonged nowhere.

This can be extremely frustrating for a child. This case is way too common in the Western world today. Majority of intermarried couples think they're giving their child an extra privilege by allowing them the opportunity to pick their own religion, but in reality the child is confused, frustrated, and even angry at their parents for putting them in such a messed up situation. Sometimes, while choosing one religion over the other, they subconsciously even pick one parent over the other.

A 17 year old girl came to speak with me a little while ago. Her father is Jewish, her mother's not. She decided she wants to be Jewish, so she spoke to a few people, and believing her sincerity, they sent her to me to see if I can help her.
After questioning her a bit, and broaching various topics, I decided that this girl was not sincere and was not determined to be shomeret Torah Umitzvot.

So what was her motive? 
She had no identity! She felt awkward with her non Jewish friends, and she felt out of place with her Jewish friends. She wants to marry  Jewish because they ¨make the best husbands¨, but most Jewish boys will turn her down if she doesn't convert. I hope.

People need an identity. This juvenile curser, who actually went public and cursed God, did so out of the pain of being an outsider and not belonging.

Truthfully, we ALL need to belong in one way or another. It's healthy for us to have some sort of identity.

After one of my babies were born, I went for a couple of days to "bait hachlama", a convalescent home, to be pampered and spoiled until it was time to go home and face the reality waiting for me.

One day, as normal days go at the bait hachlama, all the women were sitting around together taking care of their newborns´ needs. I sat back observing the scene.

Every woman looked the same. They wore long, over-sized various colored robes, one or another type of snood perched on their heads, comfortable slippers on their feet, and makeup-less faces. Everyone was feeding babies and changing diapers round the clock.

My spectating stopped as the women began an interesting conversation. One busy mother started speaking about the exploding pile of sewing she has waiting for her upon her arrival home. Apparently, she´s a seamstress. Another woman commented that she has days worth of tests to mark; clearly she's a teacher.

The next one spoke about a children´s book she's writing, when another woman interrupted her, proudly describing the one-of-a-kind cakes she sells.  And on and on the conversation went...each woman feeling a great need  to prove to the others that she's more than she appeared to look at that moment. Each woman had an identity that she was proud of and she wanted the others to see her as that identity. 

I laughed to myself, finding the discussion quite humorous. 
The only thing I was anticipating doing when I got home, was curling up on the couch with a bag of potato chips and watching old TV reruns. I just had a baby! If not now, then when?

But in retrospect, I learned something important.

It's a normal, healthy need to want recognition for who you are. Because once you develop a  reputation for yourself, you always have to live up to that name. For the good, and for the better. Hence the importance of focusing on our positive aspects and creating a positive identity for ourselves.


To be dependent on a personal identity can lead us into the danger zone. Our window into another person´s world is usually by what they do. If you are a lawyer, that would become your identity in others´eyes.
The way we learn about other people, really, is through their speech and actions. If you want people to get to know you better, you need to allow them to get to know who you really are. The need to reveal your deeper self is not necessarily important, or good. In fact, having a secret place in your heart, an inner life that isn´t judged or exposed to other people, is a precious thing.

What happens if one day your identity is taken away from you? You can longer perform in the way you have been performing. Or, if you move somewhere where your identity is no longer recognized, or needed.
How can we go on with life without it?

There is an identity that is unique and specific to each individual person. The only way to develop that is by asking ourselves, ¨Who should I be at this moment in time in terms of Hashem´s Will for me? How can I bring light into the specific places that Hashem placed me in?¨

Yes, I need to develop my positive traits and use the talents I was given, but, I need to do them, not on my own terms, but on Hashem´s terms. And the only opinion of me that matters, is His.

If I´m dependent on my identity rather than on my integrity, I might be in for a very rude awakening when my identity dies before I do.

So, belonging somewhere is important, and creating a name for myself is important, but it´s not my goal. My goal is to do what I have to do and be who I have to be, even if no one knows about it but me and God.

"We were all born so different and unique; what a shame we spend our lives trying to be like everyone else"

Have a great shabbos!