Being Asked to Be More YourSelf

“The wise Rabbi Bunam once said in old age, when he had already grown blind: “I should not like to change places with our father Abraham! What good would it do God if Abraham became like blind Bunam, and blind Bunam became like Abraham? Rather than have this happen, I think I shall try to become a little more myself.”

“The same idea was expressed with even greater pregnancy by Rabbi Zusya, when he said a short while before his death: “In the world to come I shall not be asked: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’””

~ Martin Buber (1878-1965),
German philosopher,
in The Way of Man


“Nothing good comes from Nazareth,” was a common saying 2,000 years ago in Judea. Contemplatives with an esoteric interpretation of those distant events sometimes interpret that saying as the belittling expectation that nothing good can come from ourselves. Yet history and rebbes Bunam and Zusya suggest otherwise.

That we expect little of ourselves results naturally from our upbringing, for it consists of so much outward turning to others for direction and instruction. We are born helpless. Our survival initially depends upon the mercies of our parents. Perforce we obey our parents instruction. From our parents, we are given over to schooling which socializes our young animals in how to act, feel, think, believe, and be. Moreover an instinct to find safety in the company of the herd encourages conformity.

Our upbringing results in a poverty of attention to the inner life which assumes the self to be a ghetto from which nothing good is to be expected. However the psychological drive to individuate suggests that Existence values you differently. Nature does not ask that you clone yourself in the likeness of another, no matter how noble. Rather (human) nature asks that you ennoble your own humanity by your discerning, manifesting, and fulfilling the unique, authentic difference which Being seeks to express through you as you.

While upbringing might equip us to participate skillfully in our society, individuation calls us to a further degree of psychological and spiritual maturation that would contribute to the community. Just as genetic diversity enriches the gene pool, so to the community of man is enriched by the varieties of points of view, knowledge, experience, values, philosophies, artistic visions, spiritual approaches and realizations, etc. which our differences enable.

The infinitude of Being’s potential cannot express itself within the prison of imitation or conformity. Instead it flowers as boundless difference which in part can become personified as the authentic individual who is in unqualified accord with the givenness of his/her difference. From the Nazareth of our seeming lowly selves, the splendor of a complete, fully human being can come forth. Thus Zusya is beckoned to be more Zusya, as I am to be more Michael, and you to be more you.

At the end of your days, will the Mystery ask of you, “Why were you not you?”

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