Individuality is a noble aspiration. Who doesn’t want to be unique? But is individuality actually possible when you have been and continue to be shaped by many forces – your childhood, parents, social and peer pressures?
How can you express your individuality – or even know who you are as an individual – when you are over-stimulated by today’s endless flow of information and inundated by millions of advertising messages and marketing pitches that manipulate your emotions, telling you who you are supposed to be? And how can you ever discover your true identity when all these forces conspire to influence your choices? How can you find the courage to be yourself, and not what others want, demand and expect of you?
And then, a second set of questions: Where does religion fit in? What is the role of spirituality in the search for one’s self? Religion seems to demand conformity – following a certain code of behavior, being part of a community. Some religionists even see individuality as a threat, a sin. But does G-d want people to lose their identities in the name of faith?
This week’s Torah reading provides a powerful response to these questions, as well as the tools to actually discover your own individuality in the age of conformity – to “make your own kind of music … [to] sing your own special song … even if nobody else sings along.”
A revolutionary thought from the Baal Shem Tov and several short inspiring stories about performing artists help drive the point home.