A couple of years ago, a tour group that was traveling by bus to the volcanic Eldgjá canyon in Iceland stopped near the canyon park. A woman went inside to freshen up and change her clothes, and when she returned, her bus mates didn’t recognize her.
Word spread among the group of a missing passenger, and the woman didn’t recognize the description of herself. Next thing you know, a fifty-person search party was canvassing the area, and the coast guard was mobilized to deploy a search party of its own.
About 3:00 a.m., it was finally discovered that the missing woman was actually in the search party, albeit in different clothes, and the search was called off.
What a metaphor for life. This woman was searching for herself in all the wrong places. She searched the mountains, the hills and the valleys, the woods, the ravines and by the river, she searched everywhere except for where she was. To find herself all she had to do was look within. She was always there, she just didn’t recognize the unique qualities that made up the unique person she was looking for.
We expend so much energy emulating others. We dress to emulate magazine models. We exercise to emulate professional athletes. We want to be as popular as movie stars, as capable as CEOs and as wealthy as our most affluent neighbors.
We are always looking outside ourselves for what we perceive to be perfection. Yet, perfection is right where it always was. Inside.
Ezekiel famously said, “Echad Hayah Avraham,” Abraham was one. Ezekiel was speaking to the fact that Abraham was promised the land of Israel on his own merit because he stood utterly and completely alone in defiance of contemporary culture. Abraham was willing to be unique.
We all marvel at Abraham’s willingness to stand out in a pagan society. He was willing to buck the trend and draw attention to his unique monotheistic philosophy. Yet, at the Seder table we attribute this singular oneness, not only to Abraham, but to all his children, each end every Jew.
The Haggadah text describes four students. “One is wise. One is wicked. One is simple. One know not how to ask.” The text could have read, the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one who knows not how to ask. That the text repeats the appellation one for each student tells us that Abraham isn’t the only unique Jew. Every Jew, from wise to simple, from wicked to apathetic, is unique. Stands alone as one.
We understand that the wise one stands alone. He is head and shoulders above the rest. Even the wicked one stands out, especially at the Seder table where he bucks the trend, but what is unique about the simple son and the one who knows not how to ask? Why do they deserve Abraham’s appellation?
This is a fundamental part of Jewish theology. Every single person is unique. No two people are exactly the same. The thinking works like this. If I could do what you could do, G-d wouldn’t waste time making you. If you could do what I could do, G-d wouldn’t waste time making me. That G-d made us both and takes the time to nurture, feed and provide for us both, indicates that we are each unique. I can’t fill in for you and you can’t stand in for me.
We are each given a unique set of qualities and a unique mission in life. Our qualities and talents suit our missions perfectly. We are each perfectly designed by a perfect G-d to fulfill a perfectly unique mission. No two missions are alike and no two people are alike. Just as our features are unique and no two people are precisely identical, so are our personalities unique and no two people are interchangeable.
I am one and there is no one quite like me. You are one and there is no one quite like you. In that sense we share this honor with Abraham, He was one and there was no one quite like Abraham. In fact we share this honor with G-d, who is truly alone and there is no one like Him. Echad, we are each one. The one G-d who created the wise son and made him unique, created the simple son and made him unique.
The question is, have I fulfilled my potential and activated my unique qualifications? Being simple is a powerful talent because it enables me to singularly relate to G-d who is profoundly simple; beyond all sophistication and complication. G-d is essentially simple and can be related to best by those who are simple. If we were made simple, it was with good reason. There is something unique and distinct in simplicity. Am I using my simplicity for the right reason?
The one who knows not how to ask is also unique. His very presence inspires the teacher to draw him out and spark his curiosity. He stimulates pedagogic creativity in the teacher that the wise one never would. The entire Seder is enhanced because of his presence. The teacher shares anecdotes, analogies and teachings that bring the Passover story to life and make it personal for us all.
You are as perfect as you need to be for the task that you need to fulfill. You were chosen by G-d and tailored perfectly for your specific task. Rather than trying to be as good as someone else, try to be as good as you could be. Rather than trying to accomplish what some else has, find the goals to which you are best suited and pursue them. If you are good at it, it is likely because you were made for it.
You are a perfectly designed entity, but only if you apply yourself to the right task. A knitting machine can be reconfigured to sow, but it won’t be perfectly suited to sowing. It was designed to knit and it will only perform perfectly if we allow it to knit. The same is true of humanity. Do what you were designed to do and stop trying to be someone else. That will make you perfect.
No matter how closely you resemble the ones you want to emulate you will never emulate them perfectly. You will always be a little off, a little “flawed”. Because you were designed to be you, not someone else. You are unique. G-d thought so and considered you worthy of making. It is time for you to think so too.
We are each perfect and unique, the question is, do we realize it and what are we doing about it?
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a respected writer, scholar and speaker, is the spiritual leader of Beth Tefilah congregation in London, Ontario. He is the author of Reaching for God: A Jewish Book on Self Help, and his new book, Mission Possible: Living With Higher Purpose will be released this spring and can be pre-ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org