Live your life uniquely (Vayechi)

This Shabbat we read how Yaakov blesses each of his children before he dies, and what is particularly fascinating about these verses is that they highlight what Yaakov considered to be the individual destinies of each of his children. As Sforno explains, ‘to each of them he gave a blessing that was particularly suited for his own ability – kingship for Yehudah, Torah greatness for Yissachar and Temple service for Levi’ (Sforno commentary to Bereishit 49:29), or as Or HaChayim writes, ‘[Yaakov gave each son] a blessing that matched the inner traits of his soul and his actions… [and] Yaakov wanted his blessings to bring out the inner nature of every son’ (Or HaChayim commentary to Bereishit 49:28).
This idea that each of us is unique and has unique talents is actually a major principle in Judaism as evident from a fascinating teaching in Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5. The Mishna discusses ideas relating to the fact that we are all created in the image of God, and observes that while we are all created in the image of the same G-d, each of us is created uniquely. Among the many things we can learn from this Mishna is the fact that by recognising the unique talents within ourselves, we are actually recognising the greatness of G-d. Yet what this Mishna also teaches us is that G-d has also given unique gifts to everyone else in the world, which means that we should value each person we meet and find opportunities to learn from them (as our Rabbis teach us, ‘Who is wise? Someone who learns from every person’ – Avot 4:1). As the quote (often attributed to Margaret Mead) goes, ‘always remember that you’re unique, just like everyone else.’
However, one thing to remember from the above is that the sons of Yaakov were guided towards their unique paths from the blessing that they received from their father, and I am a strong believer that by seeking blessings from people who inspire you, and being open to the blessings that you receive from them, you become a blessing.
This reminds me of an event I attended last year which included former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau as the guest speaker. Rabbi Lau is an incredible Torah scholar and a wonderful ambassador for Jews throughout the world, but what makes him an even more inspirational person is the fact that he was one of the youngest survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. When Rabbi Lau arrived, some people began taking photos of him, and others asked to take selfies with him. However, while I had a camera with me, when the opportunity arose for me to speak with him, the only thing I asked from him was a blessing, because while a picture is worth a thousand words, a blessing is worth so much more. While the Nazi’s sought to take away our individuality, they could not take away our uniqueness, and by receiving a blessing from someone who understands this concept well, it reminded me about the importance of living my unique life to the fullest.
So what’s my message?

  • Know that you are unique and find out what makes you unique,
  • When you look at other people, recognise what makes them unique and learn from them,
  • See out blessings from inspirational people,
  • And live your life to the fullest.

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