By Rabbi Moshe Mayerfield
As human beings, our lives are often a complex journey around the thin line that separates conformity and individuality.
Gaining control of when it is best to ‘fit in’ and when to ‘stand out’ is crucial to our success.
In the Torah portion of Naso, we read how each leader of the 12 tribes brought an offering to the Tabernacle to celebrate its inauguration.
Each of them brought the exact same offering, yet the Torah goes into detailed description of each one. The same words are repeated 12 times.
For a book that prides itself that not even one letter is there extraneously, we must ask ourselves: why the repetition? Just tell us the first offering and then say that each of the rest gave the identical offering.
This is not just a question about the Tabernacle; this is the fear that we often have about living a Jewish life as well.
How can it be that we all have to keep the same 613 commandments and yet still maintain my individuality? Same thing over and over.
I don’t want to be a robot, the same as the person next to me.
The insight into the offerings can offer us a healthy roadmap at this challenging navigation in our lives as well.
The Maharal, the great mystic and sage of the 16th Century, teaches that if you take the physical characteristics of the human face, each person has the same attributes (ie one mouth, one nose, two eyes, etc).
However, each person, based on his or her own structure, ends up looking very different.
Although each tribe physically brought the identical gift, the thoughts and intentions accompanying each offering differed greatly.
Externally they appeared the same, but internally the reflection and reasons are as different as could be.
On the outside it may look the same – while each individual expresses themselves through their deeper intentions and personality.
Each leader brought a silver basin weighing 70 shekels. The Midrash explains that for one it symbolised the 70 Jewish souls who went down to Egypt. For another, it
symbolised the 70 judges in the Sanhedrin, while for another, it symbolised the 70 nations of the world, etc.
Playing football within the lines isn’t a constraint. It is just how the game is mastered. Following systems of morality and society shouldn’t scare us.
Structure doesn’t take away our unique expression of who we are; rather it gives us the framework to excel as only we can.
• Rabbi Moshe Mayerfeld @mmayerfeld Director of Aish UK and Rabbi at Shomrei Hadath Synagogue