Growing Each Day by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski

Tishrei 25
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He [Hillel] was accustomed to say, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

This phrase is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that one must primarily look out for oneself, as though Hillel was advocating selfishness as a desirable trait.

What Hillel really meant can be better understood with a statement by the Rabbi of Kotzk, who said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am and you are. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not and you are not."

Every person must have an identity, and that identity should not depend on what others think of him or what someone else wants him to be. A person who allows himself to be molded and manipulated by others does not have an identity or even an existence of his own, because he will always become whatever others want him to be, and he is essentially an extension of others, rather than an individual in his own right.

People, who allow others to determine who they are and what they are to do, generally do not assume full responsibility for their behavior. Their attitude is on, "He made me do it."

Both Hillel and the Rabbi of Kotzk demand that a person be fully responsible for his actions, and that he decide what he expects of himself and what he sees as his purpose in life.

Today I shall...

try to achieve my own identity. Whereas I will listen to the advice of those who are wiser than me, I will nonetheless never hold others responsible for what I do.

With stories and insights, Rabbi Twerski's new book Twerski on Machzor makes Rosh Hashanah prayers more meaningful. Click here to order...

 

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