As Rosh Hashana approaches, I wonder about standing before God as an individual. So much of Judaism is based on the group that it sometimes is hard to find room for the individual to make unique contributions.
Rabbi Naftali Tzi Yehuda Berlin (The Netziv), commenting on this week’s Parsha offers a wonderful illustration as to the importance of individuals and their contributions.
He notes that the group can be compared to a garden where many different types of species are planted, but that also has one main or anchor crop. Similarly, every Jews is obligated in all of the commandments, but, nonetheless, each individual has a specific Mitzvah they should be especially careful about.
The particular Mitzvah that one should focus on may be just the commandment that one finds particularly challenging or may be based on surroundings and circumstances. Either way, The Netziv is suggesting that and individual can make a unique mark on the world corresponding to their “personal” Mitzvah.
Rabbi Walter Wurzberger notes that individual focus has added color and texture to Jewish life. While commenting on the centrality of conduct over ideology, Rabbi Wurzburger writes the following: “ That a variety of ideological positions are compatible with Halakha can be garnered from the fact that throughout history Jews who professed absolute loyalty to Halacha adopted radically different life styles and policies. From the battles between rationalists, ant-rationalists and mystic through the controversies dividing Chassidim and Mitnagdim, through the mutually antagonistic positions taken in reaction to the Enlightenment and the Emancipation, to the bitter conflicts raging within the Orthodox community about the legitimacy of Zionism and the State of Israel, Jews have exhibited an uncanny ability to arrive at a host of mutually contradictory conclusions from the same set of data.”
Imagine how spiritually poor we would be if the individual groups mentioned by Rabbi Wurzburger did not exist.
A similar idea holds true in a community. While there are certain things communities need everyone to d, there are unique niche areas that are carved out so individuals can make their mark on the community. Some focus on youth, others on adult education, others on fundraising and still others on budget, visiting the sick, welcoming guests or making sure there is a minyan.
Communities would do well to cultivate the unique talents of individual members realizing that people do different things and do things differently. When it is all put together we have a very fertile garden.