Scholars, businessmen, leaders - these people of stature the Jewish people
haven't lacked. From the
leaders and innovators in the biblical times until the present, both in the
religious and secular world, we have
given more than our proportional share to the benefit of mankind. In which
ever venue that you look, you
will see Jewish leaders. Finance, politics, science and medicine, are we
lacking names? Yet there was one
person who lived about 150 years ago, who was just the opposite; he was a
anti-leader, or an anti-scholar.
Mencachem Mendel of Kotzk, was a Chassidic leader of legendary proportion.
Yet the more his name
spread across Poland and Russia, the more he refused to acknowledge even
his own Chassidim. A
paradox in the true sense of the word. The more his followers came to see
him, the more reclusive he
became. The last several years of his life he refused to speak with anyone,
with the exception of several
Why was this?
The Kotzker, as he is known, was a person who stressed truth. Truth in
dealing with others, for sure, but
even more so, truth in dealing with one's self.
A Jew who traveled to Kotzk was certain of one thing, he would come back a
different person. The
Chassidim of Kotzk would cut through a person's personality and character
traits like a butcher chops up
meat. Trimming away from a person's character those traits which were
unpleasant, and leaving only the
good. Sort of a like an encounter, a Jew would leave Kotzk, with a
different view of him self. Not every
one found it pleasant, but sometimes it is necessary to look at one's self
realistically in order to improve.
The Kotzker didn't leave us with any writing. He wanted no limelight, nor
fortune. His thoughts are available
to us only because his Chassidim wrote them down.
Yet his thoughts are important and relevant for our time also. One of the
most famous statements of the
If I am I and you are you,
then I am I and you are you;
but if I am you and you are I,
then I am not I and you are not you.
On the surface this may not be too meaningful, but if we look into it we
may see something very interesting.
If I am I and you are you, means that if I act according to my own
personal being and do that which is for
me to do, then I am I. And if you act according to your own personal being,
doing that which is for you to
do, then you are you .
It still sounds simple. However if I am you. meaning that if I see
how you live your life and I come to envy
you, because of your personal successes, fortune or other accomplishments,
and because of this I try to
emulate you and do what you do in the manner that you do what it is that
you do; then I am not I. And if
you in turn, see me and if in your eyes I am successful. (so you might
think) If you come to envy or emulate
me, to try to act like me, then you are not you.
Why is this such an important element in being a true person? The reason
relates back to how we were all
created. Each of us was given qualities in which we excel. Some people can
think better than others, some
can build better than others. Each person's mind is different than his
friend's. Some have a good spatial
memory, some remember numbers well. Some remember faces, some remember
places. Some have
artistic talents and others have organizational abilities. Some prefer to
be alone and others need a group.
Each character, and there are many, many types, were given to us by G-d in
order for us to do what ever it
is that we are to do on this planet (astronauts excluded) to help the other
If we don't us the qualities that G-d gave to us, and we try doing
something that we see our neighbor doing,
because he realizes some goal, a goal that we want, such as money, fame or
family, then we aren't utilizing
our own talents. We aren't being ourselves. We are being some one else. We
have chucked our own
abilities overboard, because we want to reach a goal that we see our friend
This is not a healthy position to be in. Why? Because our own inner talents
are thwarted and repressed.
We push ourselves to acquire talents and abilities that we don't inherently
possess. This causes inner
conflict. On one side our inherent talent require utilization, because that
is why they were given to us. On
the other side, the talents that we desire to acquire are not natural to
our personality and they 'squeeze' our
natural abilities. This cause a feeling of constant inadequacy, like a
person standing on a high scaffold
instead of the natural ground. He may fall, be careful!
That's the message from the Kotzker. We must be ourselves. We must know
ourselves, the good points
and the lacking. Only then will we merit inner peace and harmony. Only then
will we be at peace with
ourselves and our friend.