Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
It is told about the great rabbi Chaim de Sanz (Sanz, Poland, 1793–1876, a famous Hasidic Rabbi and the founder of the Sanz Hasidic dynasty, and one of the leaders of Eastern European Jewry in his generation) that he once received the visit of a young rabbi. Rabbi Chaim asked the young visitor who he was. The visitor answered, “I am the grandson of the famous Rabbi so and so, who is well known in many countries. Rabbi Chaim replied, “I asked you who you were, and not who your grandfather was.”
This week we read parashat Vaera, which begins with the following two verses, “God spoke to Moses and said to him, I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Adonai.” (Exodus 6:2-3).
Rashi, the greatest Torah commentator, writes an intriguing commentary to the beginning of verse 3, “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Rashi writes, “I appeared: to the forefathers.” The verse literally says that God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who indeed were the forefathers (Avot, in Hebrew) of the Jewish people. Therefore, what is Rashi adding here that we didn’t already know?
Rabbi Meir (Meirl) of Premishlan (Ukraine, 1783–1850, the most famous rabbi of the Premishlan Hassidic dynasty, widely known as a “miracle worker”) explained that Rashi’s intention was to clarify that God revealed Himself to each forefather because of their own individual merits. He didn’t reveal to Isaac only because Isaac was Abraham’s son, or to Jacob only because he was Abraham’s grandson or Isaac’s son.
The lesson here is that you must be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are the daughter of a well-known person, or the father of a famous leader. You are meant to be you, not the “parent/grandparent/child/grandchild of.” You live on your own merit, and it is expected that you are who you are.
I would like to end with a little gift, the story of Rabbi Zusya. This is a Hassidic story that was told and retold in different ways. Here you have a nice rendition,
Zusya was a timid man, a man who lived a humble life.
One day Rabbi Zusya stood before his congregation and he said, When I die and must present myself before the celestial tribunal, they will not ask me, ‘Zusya, why were you not Moses?’ because I would say ‘Moses was a prophet, and I am not.’
They will not say ‘Zusya, why were you not Jeremiah?’ for I would say ‘Jeremiah was a writer, and I am not.’
And they will not say ‘Why were you not Rabbi Akiba?’ for I would tell them, ‘Rabbi Akiba was a great teacher and scholar, and I am not.’
But then they will say ‘Zusya why were you not Zusya?’ and to this I will have no answer.