In the world to come, I shall not be asked, "Why were you not Moses?"
I shall be asked, "Why were you not Zusya?"
- Rabbi Zusya
And isn’t that the challenge, for each of us – to be ourselves, our largest self, the self that burns, perhaps, too brightly for some of the people in our lives. Most of the people I’ve met seem to struggle with this. I know I do.
Rabbi Zusya gave this answer to someone who asked him why he wasn’t more like the Patriarch. In answering as he did Zusya was not saying he couldn’t be as large a figure as Moses, but that his task was to act from his own authority, from what God had given him to work with. To be the most Zusya he could be was his task, what, and all that, God wanted of him.
I’ve struggled most of my life with the belief that I should be “better” than I am – with feeling a failure because I can’t write like Fitzgerald or Welty, and other equally ridiculous premises. Conversely, I fear to try, to speak and write from my own voice, with passion, power, conviction - what a conflict.
And then there’s the belief that I think most of us have – that we “should” be like “most” people. I’ve only met a few people who have that inner sense that they can speak and act from a passionate and empowered position, from a sense of self that, while they may fail at things, or take a wrong path, it is all in the service of learning who and how and what they are – and that’s just fine. We are too often raised, or at least acculturated, to fit in, to not rock the boat, to avoid taking the big chance. The risk of being only, and absolutely, ourselves places us on the outside, or sometimes in the lead – both lonely places.
I know – not everyone can do what Moses did – leading a people, making decisions that affect life and death outcomes, listening only to that voice that he called God and some of us might call inner self. And we tend toward thinking that our individual choices, our inner callings, the actions we take when we aren’t sure what to do – that those don’t matter anyway. But what if they do?
What if that is what Zusya is telling us – today? What if being faithful to, trusting, acting on and from our authentic self matters as much as parting the sea did? How do we know it doesn’t – in some future we may not be around to see?
Certainly, it ought to be evident, I don’t have any answers here. At best I can consider these ideas, these questions, this challenge – and share them with whoever shows up. At best, and for what it’s worth, I can be Mary Jo (she of the incorrect name) and try appreciating, if not understanding, what a good thing that is.