My whole life I always hated it when people copied me. Those who love me know it well and hopefully don’t love me less because of it. But I always deemed it as a form of identity theft. I know some will say imitation is the highest form of praise. But for me, imitation is the highest form of irritation. And I’ve often racked my brain as to why it bothers me so much. Was I afraid that if you wore the same hat and ring that I would mistake you for me? At what point do I risk losing my unique identity altogether? And then I think about it another way and question whether those things which are copyable are really me at all. Some advise and say if you’re being copied then you must be doing something right. But I’ve concluded that if I am copyable then I’m doing something very wrong. For each one of us is a unique soul and if I’d be truly pressing my soul to extricate what is uniquely me it would be as inimitable as a thumb print. Not for the first time my grievance would become my teacher. Yesterday, it turns out, was also my teacher.
Yes, just yesterday, as I was out and about doing errands, a cashier complimented me on my shoes. The vanity in me was of course happy to hear it. After all, they are my favorite shoes. But were they Aliza? What do they really have to do with me? The day I throw them away will there be less of me in the world? Of course such a compliment is nothing to write about. But I am because what came just before stood in beautiful contrast.
As I had pulled into the parking lot, a woman just getting back into her car was looking suspiciously at something. The terror in me quickly rose. Oh no, what's behind me? A gunman? A cop? A mugger? I asked her what she was looking at and she pointed out that a blind man seemed to have lost his way. I turned and saw he was headed right into a somewhat busy street. In my way-too-high shoes, I dashed over to him and asked him if he needed help. I thought I'd just be crossing the street and then I’d go back to shopping. No, he needed help getting to Citibank. For many weeks I'd been avoiding the Florida sunshine and the hateful freckles it leaves me as souvenirs. But here, mid-day, with the merciless sun beating on my head, I found myself walking half a mile; the blonde was leading the blind with me asking him for landmarks to know whether we were going in the right direction. It turned out he was Jewish and had been blind from birth. I just wish I would trust in G-d even more to lead me to the right place as the blind man trusted me. I can't help but think he was there to show stumbling, bumbling me the way to faith. Upon replay, I thank him now for two things. One, he gave me the chance to do a mitzvah and second, his blindness made me see clearly that the Aliza that is copyable is not Aliza at all. He couldn't see anything about me except who I really was. The hour I spent in front of the mirror getting ready was meaningless to him. I thought that yesterday my shoes really earned any compliment they ever got because they worked in the service of G-d. And that's life. It's all about who wears the shoes and how you walk in them.
In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis, we read about the imminent death of Jacob who with foresight at the impending moment blessed his sons, the future tribes of Israel. His parting words were by no means a blanket blessing to wish his sons a one-size-fits-all good luck and farewell. Each son received a unique blessing which was intrinsic to his soul and his idiosyncratic and divine destiny. Each tribe would ultimately be represented by a precious stone embedded in the breastplate of the high priest when serving in the Holy Temple. Could the sapphire representing Issachar imitate the pearl which represented Zebulun? Could the emerald representing Judah imitate the turquoise representing Naphtali? Each gem has its own beauty and brilliance to reflect in the world. Ultimately, scholars descended from Issachar, seafarers from Zebulun, leaders from Judah, judges from Dan, priests from Levi, etc. Why even bother having 12 tribes if each was destined to be like the other. Obviously, they were not. “All these are the twelve tribes of Israel...each man, according to his blessing, he blessed them.” (Genesis 49:28)
When we become the best and highest version of ourselves, no one can steal our thunder because we own the sky. Don’t tell Cecil B DeMille, but the Sages teach that when the Jews left Egypt the Re[e]d Sea didn’t split into two, it actually split into twelve paths, providing a distinct path for each of the twelve tribes. Each one of us should to take an honest, deep look at ourselves and find the gem within that is distinctly us. It’s not only about living a purpose-driven life; it is about living, in heightened form, our own unique purpose. I walked away from the mirror and what I thought was me was no longer reflected. Here I am now at my laptop, writing only what I can write. It is my purpose, it is my soul, it is my thumbprint, it is Aliza. Who are you?