Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk was a Chassidic sage who was known as the Kotzker Rebbe. He once said, "If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I exist and you exist. However, if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I do not exist and you do not exist."
Commentary: The Creator wants each person to have his own unique identity, and if a person has no identity other than that given to him by others, he really has no identity at all. (“Visions of the Fathers” by Rabbi Abraham Twerski M.D.)
As we discussed, Torah gives us the power to build and perfect the world; moreover, we each have a unique portion in Torah which enables us to contribute to this process as individuals. In this letter, we will begin to discuss how we can develop the spiritual power of our own portion in Torah.
Rav Chayim Mordechai Katz was a noted sage of the past century who was one of the heads of the Telshe Yeshiva, and he discusses this idea in the following excerpts from his lectures:
“Being a member of a group is very important, for we can be influenced in many positive ways by others. Being in isolation is not good for a person. To acquire Torah, the Sages have said we need to study with a group (Brochos 63b). Our environment can help us develop; it can help us to acquire more
knowledge, logical thinking, and deeper insights.
“But there is also a potential drawback in being part of a group, insofar as it can diminish the individual's proper stature. It can cause him to lose the uniqueness of his temperament and individual personality. At times, because of the group he is in, a person might cut himself off from the root of his soul, his originality, and personality. If this happens, he will not find his own portion in Torah, and will not be able to elevate himself to his greatest potential.
“The great people and tzadikim (righteous individuals) of previous generations, some of whom I merited to meet personally, were all people who possessed originality in Torah and wisdom. They took from their environment enough so that it enabled them to keep developing in their own original manner, and therefore they grew very much.
“But there are people who do not give thought to developing their originality and uniqueness. This causes them a great loss. They remain small and their personalities remain undeveloped. They give reasons for this: they do not want to be exceptional individuals. They want to be like everyone else. But this is a great hindrance along one's path of growth and development. Each person must strengthen and develop his own abilities and talents. Even if others are critical of this, one should not be held back because of their complaints. Only by developing your own potential and personality will you be able to become great.
“By developing yourself according to your uniqueness, you will be able to understand wisdom to its fullest. When you develop your originality, the wisdom you hear enters your entire being. If, however, you have not developed yourself properly, the knowledge you have does not become yours and will not be a part of you. The only way you will develop deep understanding of Torah is by developing your own unique personality.”
(The above teachings of Rabbi Katz are cited in “Consulting the Wise” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Aish HaTorah Publications.)
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
The following are related comments of Rav Katz concerning the famous sage, Rabbi Akiva, who began to study Torah when he was forty years old:
“Rabbi Akiva was forty years old and had not previously studied Torah. At first he was not successful in his studies and became discouraged. Upon passing a rock, Rabbi Akiva noticed that dripping water had carved out a hole in the rock. Rabbi Akiva observed that it was the persistence of the dripping water that made the indentation. He realized from this that if he would be consistent in studying Torah [which is compared to water], he would be able to successfully master the concepts and ideas.
“It was Rabbi Akiva’s strong ambition to acquire Torah that enabled him to see a seemingly ordinary occurrence, a stone that had a hole caused by dripping water, and learn a valuable from it that changed his life. This is the power of ambition. Many people can pass the same rock and not learn anything from it. But a person with a deep passion to grow will see things that others miss and will learn profound lessons that will enable him to utilize his inner capacity for achieving greatness.”