Guest post by Yerachmiel Goldstein
I was packing away my tefillin and ready to head out the door as a beggar approached me. His hands were shaking and he looked at me with desperate eyes. I smiled and frantically began digging through my pockets for some long, lost quarter. The frustrated beggar stared at me as I smiled and anxiously dug through my pockets. As I continued looking for my quarter, a fellow in his mid thirties passed by approaching a little boy sitting very comfortably in the shul’s giant, king like chair. “Excuse me” he said to the boy who also happened to his son, “You’re not allowed to sit there.” The little boy reluctantly rose from the chair. The father took his son’s hand and bent down to his level. He pointed to sign on that giant chair. The father read out loud, “Please do not sit here. Do not let children sit here. That’s you,” he said to the half shamed boy. The father continued to read, “This seat is designated for a sandak (the one who holds the child during the bris), one holding the sefer Torah and Eliyahu Hanavi.” He then looked at the child and calmly asked him three questions.
“Are you a Sandak?”
“No,” the child answered.
“Did you do Hagbah?”
“No,” he said again.
“Are you Eliyahu Hanavi?”
The child was fine and didn’t react and ask why, how come or complain “this isn’t fair” then proceed to yell throughout the whole shul to prove his point. The father clearly told him who he wasn’t and that was enough for the child not to continue sitting there. The father rose from his position, holding his son’s hand and led him out the door.
I finally found my quarter and handed it the now very frustrated beggar. He wished me a good day; I hoped it was genuine.
A strong sense of the identity is one of those things that seem to be such a dilemma. Maybe it’s just that I’m going through a quarter life crisis. But I imagine if I make a lot of money, I’ll be called “rich.” Or if I get a PhD in psychology I will then be a “psychologist” or “PhD student.” Are these terms limiting? Yes. Do they define who a person is? Certain aspects, yes, but not the person in their essence. To go further and say, I am “strong willed” or “generous” or “cheap” seems to limit the personality of the individual. However, it could be that having a “limit” on your identity allows one to build on specific qualities as opposed to becoming something you’re not.
The mishpatim or “judgments” are laws specifically are ones which could have been developed by man (i.e. do not murder, kidnap, etc.) The Rebbe explains these judgments were specifically placed “before them,” as opposed to laws that don’t have a logical basis (not wearing wool and linen), in that the Jews should realize they are only following them because they were given by G-d and not because they make sense. Therefore, there isn’t a possibility to change them based upon one’s ever changing circumstances or perspective on life. When the Jews, through halacha (laws) remember who they are and what they should do, this will automatically eliminate a possible identity crisis.
Similar to the little boy, who didn’t get up because he just realized he wasn’t Eliahu Hanavi. He simply got up because his father told him to. In this way, life becomes a bit easier in having someone remind of who you are rather than sitting in a place you don’t belong.