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Isn't it pretty?

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Path of My Own

P-Life posts an important article that I'm fairly certain I read quite some time ago, which made an impact on me back then. For those of you who, like me, have difficulty reading long articles on a computer screen, let me sum it up quickly. The article discusses how Torah, when used incorrectly, can stifle those for whom individuality is extremely important. When used as a tool to create conformity amongst its adherrents, it can lead many off the path. But Torah and its rules are not necessarily about conformity - Hashem didn't make each of us exactly the same - there is certainly room for individuality within the confines of halacha. And while halacha gives us a framework for our lives, it is just that - a framework rather than an absolute system of making each of us indistinguishable from the next. It seems that individuality is scary for many. I guess it's difficult to control what's going to happen when you encourage people to explore for themselves who they want to be. It's very easy to be led astray, especially if one doesn't have the proper foundation set down to use as a platform. But once this foundation has set, I think it's important to encourage people to explore their unique talents and interests. I spoke to a woman once who had grown up in a Chassidish community, but had left because of her frustration with the map set out for her. She still adheres to halacha, but she chose a path other than being a teacher, which for her family, was somewhat devastating. Here was a woman with a successful career, who held onto her frumkeit, but was looked upon negatively because she had chosen a path less taken (and not so much less taken - her career wasn't anything terribly weird or unusual, just not a teacher). And this path, while not what her family desired, brought her a lot more happiness than what was expected of her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the path she had taken other than it wasn't what was typically done. So why does it cause so much disruption? Does anyone consider themselves typical? I once challenged a professor to point to an average student. Because once you look at someone upon closer inspection, it's difficult to find someone who is "normal," who completely walks the line and fits right in. They may appear to on the surface, but on the inside, I usually find they are hiding a lot, and attempting to hide who they really are in order to fit in. Which I think is such a shame - because we each have such amazing, innate, individual skills and talents, that to deny them is a detriment to the world at large. I think our individuality is our precious gift from Hashem, and should be encouraged, again within the framework of halacha. Halacha isn't monolithic; it doesn't demand one path to walk - it offers a multifacted array of colors from which to choose, all valid. I do understand why individuality can be scary. I think of the book "My Name is Asher Lev" by Chaim Potok, which gives a slightly disturbing account of a boy with unique artistic talents. He is both encouraged and discouraged (by different people) to develop these talents, and it is a difficult struggle to find a balance. But balance is the key, and I think that the focus on turning all into one image is dangerous, and alienates many. It's important for each person to find their own voice, their own color and their own path, because that is the only way for them to actualize their unique reason for being here. This reminds me of the poem by Robert Frost "The Road Not Taken." Perhaps if we encouraged more people to take the roads that are not as well-worn, this world will be more comfortable with each person being himself. I know I can't be happy following the lead of those who walk the straight path - I need to find my own way. And that doesn't necessarily mean that my way is not well within the borders of Judaism.

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