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Believe in Your Own Individual Way - Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlit"a

Each person has his own path in the service of Hashem. There are the basics that are for everyone, such as setting aside times for Torah study, praying three times a day, etc., but there are still many areas of service of Hashem that is up to each individual to decide where they want to place the emphasis of their service. But there are people who disregard their own tendencies and interests in service of Hashem, and follow what the majority of people are doing. Once again, this is an example of abandoning one's own mind to adopt the mind of others. It would be better if he wouldn't be afraid to be himself and to serve Hashem in the way he knows he should.

Someone wanted to join the Russian army, so he went to the army base, and asked that they induct him. They told him that he must pass a test to prove his allegiance to "Mother Russia" and the czar. He replied, "I am very loyal to Russia and I'm also loyal to the czar. That's why I came. If I wasn't loyal, I wouldn’t ask to join the army. If you want to test me, go right ahead. Ask me any question you want." They asked him, "Would you give away all your fields to the czar, if the czar asks you for them." "Yes. I will do anything for the czar." "And if he asks you for your home, will you give that too." "Definitely." "And your cattle?" "Also." "And your chickens." "No. That I can't do. I won't give my chickens to the czar." "Then you aren't accepted into the army. You didn’t demonstrate complete allegiance to our country and to our honored czar." When he returned home, his family asked him why he was ready to give away his fields, his house, his animals, and only not the chickens. He replied, "I don’t own land, houses, or cattle, so I don’t mind giving them away to the czar. But I have chickens. They are all I have and I won't give them away to the czar." What we learn from the parable is, people are ready to do services that belong to others, and they keep away from the particular portion and service that Hashem wants from them. They find it easier to do matters that aren't theirs. But from their own personal portion they steer clear. As tzaddikim said, "People say Kriyas Shema, they proclaim that Hashem is the king over the seven heavens and the four corners of the earth, but he forgets to make Hashem king over himself."

A hungry bear was finding it very difficult to find food. So one day, the bear decided to sign up to work in a zoo. People will look at him all day long, but in exchange, he will get food to eat. That is certainly better than dying from hunger. He appeared before the zoo manager and applied for the job. The manager replied, "We don’t need any more bears. The bear department is full. However, there is a vacancy in the monkey house. The eldest monkey died a few weeks ago, and we still didn’t find a replacement. If you want, you can work there." The bear replied, "But I don’t know the first thing about being a monkey. The spectators will immediately realize that it's a fraud." "You don’t have to worry" the manager told him. "We have a school on campus, and we will teach you how to swing in the trees, and how to eat bananas…and everyone will assume you are from the monkey family." The job was very difficult for the heavy bear. He wasn't as light as a monkey who can climb and swing easily in the high trees. But, as the saying goes, "What won't one do for parnassah." So the bear endured the hardships, and tried the best he could. Nighttime arrived, and it was time for dinner. "This is what I've been waiting for all day long" the bear thought to himself. They threw him some bananas and some peanuts. It wasn't the foods he was accustomed to eat, and even if it were, it wasn't nearly enough for a large bear, like himself. His stomach grumbled from hunger. The bear starting walking around the zoo, thinking about his dilemma, when he saw a sign that said, "Bears"! He went right inside. This is where he could be himself. He saw one bear sitting next to a large portion of food, but wasn't eating anything. "Why don’t you eat this good food" the visiting bear (pretending to be a monkey) asked him. The bear replied, "I'll tell you the truth. I'm not really a bear. I'm a monkey. I didn’t find enough food to eat in the forest, so I applied to be a monkey in the zoo. The manager told me that they didn’t need a new monkey, but they were in need of a bear. An old bear died a few weeks before, and they didn’t yet find any animal to take his place. I told the manager that I don’t know how to be a bear, but the manager told me that I shouldn’t worry. They would send me to a school in the zoo that will teach me how to be a bear. And that's how I ended up being here. But I don’t eat everything they give me, because I'm really a monkey and I need only a third of what bears eat. Besides, they feed us fish, berries, and nuts, and I am really yearning for good old bananas and peanuts…" The visiting bear replied that he has a similar story, only the opposite. He explained that he is really a bear, pretending to be a monkey.

They both realized how impractical and foolish their situation was. Here was a bear, working hard pretending to be a monkey, and he was unsatisfied with his meals. In another cage there's a monkey living among bears, working hard to act like a bear, and he was also unsatisfied with the meals. Wouldn’t it be better if they just exchanged places? They went to the zoo manager and told them their wonderful plan. The zoo manager didn’t want to hear about it. He said, "Go back to your places, and don’t think of changing them. You were hired to be a bear, and you were hired to be a monkey, and that agreement remains, regardless of how impractical it is." The bear and the monkey told him, "You're speaking like a dumb donkey." The zoo manager responded, "Actually, I am a donkey. Years ago, I didn’t find enough food to eat, so I applied to be a donkey in the zoo. The heads of the zoo told me that they have enough donkeys, and they didn’t need new ones, but they were looking to hire a zoo keeper. The old zoo keeper had passed away a few weeks before, and they hadn't yet found a replacement. They said I could take that position. I told them that I don’t know anything about being a keeper, but they said, 'That's not a problem. We have a school. You will learn how to be a keeper.' And I've been working ever since." This story reminds us how foolish it is when people try to play the role of someone else, and they don’t want to fill the role for which they were created. Be happy with the lot Hashem gave you, and then you will succeed in all your spiritual and material pursuits. Don’t lose everything that was giving to you by trying to take the place of others.

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