Rebels have a special place in history. There is a cultural reverence for people who faced jail, torture, or even death in order to push out ideologies that clashed with the dominant paradigms of their times. When you think of heroes of humanity, who comes to mind? People like Galileo and Gandhi come to mind – the rebels with causes; the freedom fighters.
This does not mean that all rebels are heroes. Many rule breakers are simply undisciplined and lazy, indulging in their own impulses. Others are misguided or just noisemakers, seeking attention and the limelight. Worse yet are the anarchists who want to see the world burn. All underscoring the importance of ensuring that rebellion be harnessed with humility toward positive goals.
Conformity, however, is certainly not a formula for change and growth. Only those courageous enough to defy the tide are the ones who shift the status quo. So though not all rebels are heroes, all heroes are rebels of some sort. Steve Jobs said it well: The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs
What if each one of us could be a rebel? What if, without leading a political revolution, each one of us could be rebels in a spiritual way? What if we told you that well before Galileo and Gandhi, an ancient text commanded us to be spiritual rebels? Indeed, that each of us has a fiery rebel within our souls waiting to be released? Would you believe it?
The same ancient spiritual text that people associate with laws and restrictions at its core commands us to be spiritual rebels. It’s a rarely-heard idea, but the truth is right there in the text of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Pekudei. The word “pekudei” refers to individual itemization. The first line of the parsha is: “These are the accounts of the Mishkan…” It goes on to list each individual component of the Tabernacle. What does that have to do with true individuality? In order to fulfill its mission of creating a dwelling place for G-d among the Israelites, every single individual piece of the tabernacle had to be in exactly the right place. Every individual part mattered.
“Well that’s just a bunch of rules,” a skeptic might say. We’d challenge the skeptic to see it like this: In order to play cohesive and beautiful-sounding music, every member of a band needs to know how to play his instrument proficiently. That involves knowing exactly how individual notes and rhythms work together to form sounds. (That’s the rules part. Next is the rebel part.) Every single note in a musical piece is important to the overall sound of the musical piece. Without individualism, the big picture wouldn’t exist.
It is a shame that people look at radical individuality as something that separates them from the community, when in fact individuality is what contributes the most to communities. Each one of us has our unique mission and purpose in the world; no two souls are the same.
Challenge yourself to be a spiritual rebel. Just like every part of the Tabernacle was necessary to create a dwelling place for G-d among the Israelites, every one of our unique missions and souls is necessary to transform and elevate the world. What follows are six exercises that could help you move toward selfless self-actualizing without outside imposition so that YOU can find and achieve YOUR unique purpose in life.
- Think outside the box: Being a spiritual rebel starts with thinking outside the box – beyond the norms of conventional thinking. In order to be true to our souls, we have to think on a level higher than our default habits of thought. As Albert Einstein (a rebel and unique spirit in his own right) said, “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.”
- Don’t conform: Conformity is not as much about the choices you make as it is about what drives you to make those choices. Are you a conformist? Being a non-conformist doesn’t mean “doing whatever you want”. In fact, some of the most “free-spirited people” are the most enslaved people. They are often enslaved to their desires and to their internal, psychological enemies. The true freedom, the one of the spiritual rebel, is a deep freedom. It is a freedom to act according to what is right for one’s soul. It means making sure that your motivations for your actions are coming from within, from your soul, and not being imposed from without. Are your actions rote, or are you self-aware – consciously choosing what you say and what you do? Challenge yourself to examine your motivations for the things that you say and do, and to bring your consciousness to them.
- Be creative and proactive: “Creative” is not merely being artistic; it means leading a life that involves creating – initiating and building something. Instead of simply reshaping what others have built, or reacting to others, be proactive – start something new. A new project, a new class, sharing a new idea. Human creativity involves transforming the raw materials of our lives. To be a spiritual rebel, you need to find ways to make your work in the material world serve a higher purpose. The real creativity is finding new ways to elevate the mundane.
- Be humble and invest effort:Two keys to transcending one’s habitual way of thought are: humility and exertion. Humility – selfless dedication to a higher cause – allows you to get yourself and your hard-wired habits out of the way, opening up new possibilities. Exertion consists of the hard effort and work to break out of old patterns.
- Find your soul’s natural resonance and state of pleasure: There are things that resonate within us and things that don’t. Music, for example, touches chords within our souls. Other experiences may be pleasurable for the moment, but they don’t make us feel wholesome and complete; they don’t sync with our inner harmony. The pleasure of a spiritual rebel is the feeling of purpose, meaning, and inclusion. It is a feeling of wholeness and personal dignity. What makes you feel that way?
- Get to know the original spiritual rebels: Contrary to popular belief, the “Patriarchs” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not the founders of hegemonic conformity. They were the original spiritual rebels. Abraham was the biggest rebel of all. Abraham was the world’s first monotheist. He had no minyan. He had no shul. Abraham’s search for the Divine was solitary and groundbreaking. His search for the Divine was the search for truth and it was a search for his true self. Abraham was not searching for conformist rituals. Abraham was the first and ultimate pioneer, charting a course for all spiritual rebels to come.
As soon as you get trapped by your own behavior and habits, you forget that life is a journey toward truth and reality. Being a spiritual rebel is the way to turn your life into a quest for truth and reality. When we align ourselves with our soul’s purpose in the world, we are making our unique contribution. Like the individual parts of Tabernacle that came together to create a dwelling place for G-d among the Israelites in the desert, YOUR unique contribution has the power to transform the mundane to the holy. Are you ready to shake things up?