By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
In Parshas Vayechi, we read that our patriarch, Jacob, gathered his twelve sons with the intention to bestow a blessing to each one.
What is perplexing is that the first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi are castigated and criticized for previous actions on their part. Why does the Torah state after the remaining nine were truly blessed, “These are the blessings that Yaakov blessed his sons”?
The answer can be found in the Torah itself; though he remonstrated Shimon and Levi for not controlling their passions and subsequently wiping out the city of Shechem, he redirected their unique quality of unbridled passion to be utilized in the optimum manner. He instructed them to become pedagogues; for to be a teacher of youth or an educator for adults necessitates one who can passionately and unequivocally transmit ideas. Shimon was dispersed among the tribes to teach the youth while Levi became the instructors of Torah to the adults.
In the same vein, Reuvain was taught that his superior quality of being sensitive to what is just and proper should be used in a measured, productive, and calm manner.
What we are being taught here is one of the most profound lessons of life. The biggest, most important, and beneficial blessing is to understand the singular personality one has to be endowed with. Every person is unique, every person has their special gifts; each and every person has to discover their uniqueness.
HaRav Yeruchim Levovitz expounded and taught that every person is created with a unique positive trait that is the segue to unequivocal, absolute accomplishment and development; and simultaneously a negative trait that can lead a person to complete degradation and failure.
Reuvain had to overcome his בהלה, hasty, impetous, impulsive behavior, while Shimon and Levi had to control their anger.
As the Mishna states: “If I am not for me, who is for me; if I am for myself, what am I?”
Hillel teaches us; If I compete with all, if I spend my time copying others or to attract attention to myself, then who am I; I must find my identity – but if I selfishly utilize my special gifts then what am I? I must merge my uniqueness with society, thereby becoming part of my real world and making it whole. On the contrary, if I am in need of attracting others to my actions, then I must recognize that that need is what motivates all of my behavior.
If one has an intuitive, inherent and relentless drive to act in a truthful, proper manner; it could be the segue to developing into a בעל חסד, a caring person dedicated to helping others at all times and all circumstances. For if one asks oneself what is the proper manner to conduct themselves, invariably they will conclude to emulate Hashem by constantly giving. If one is intent in focusing on this gift of truth, one will veer into a world of dishonesty – always looking for honor, glory, and recognition. For this reason Yehuda was chosen to be the “king,” royalty of Klal Yisroel; he possessed the trait of honesty and had developed into it seeing the essence of all his behavior.
In a world where existential loneliness is rampant, we who live with the Almighty understand that if he created me, then I and only I can contribute to the world what I am empowered to do – for otherwise He wouldn’t need me here!
At times we ponder as to what one’s individuality is – the Rabbis teach us in Ethics of Our Fathers, “Make yourself a teacher and acquire yourself a friend.”
Though it is imperative to have a teacher, nevertheless relevant to a friend the Rabbis use emphatic language- “buy yourself a friend”. To a teacher, one can say, “ My teacher doesn’t understand my generation”, but to a friend one can’t say that. Therefore we are taught that it is imperative to even “buy” a friend, thereby having one who can advise as to what our singular purpose is, and even more so, what truly motivates a person to do what they do!