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Unknown Identity Syndrome

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Mendel Brackman, Westminster, Colorado
MyLife Essay Contest 2018 

Imagine someone that’s in the middle of the latest internal battle with himself. He has both sides lined up to present their case, and he’s telling himself, “It’s going to work out, just carry on”. Then suddenly that one side gets that little bit stronger. So he tells himself “It’s not going to just go away if I hold back for now, it’s stuck with me forever, so I’ll just give in already”. And he is forced to make a choice. Sometimes it’s for the good, and sometimes it’s for the not so good. And he comes out of the fight thinking “I really can’t figure myself out, because no matter how hard I try, the same thing happens every time, I just can’t seem to win. I am stuck in this conflict for life, because that just who I am, so why even bother putting up a fight in the first place. I’ll just give in a little and I will be able to make both sides of me satisfied, doing the right thing most of the time, and allowing myself some slack”. That’s the thought many people end up thinking to themselves when the fight has calmed down, that if I would actually spend quality time with both parts of myself I would be happy, and I would not have to fight with myself over every little thing that I am tempted by. He knows the problem with this, that the more you give in, the more powerful it becomes, and its downhill from there. But with no alternative in sight, it’s the only option he thinks he has.

Let now take a step back and try to understand what’s going on here in this seemingly everyday occurrence. If we examine the person, we are left thinking that he can’t make heads or tails of who he is. He knows what he wants from himself, i.e. to always do what’s right, but he can’t figure out if he is the right guy for the job. He must struggle to find himself in the mess of impulses, and so even if he was told that he could do it, he would see a major gap between the person he is supposed to be, and how he sees himself. He doesn’t see a person of total devotion to what right, just a bunch of opposites, and who’s he is really is never actual found. This person in other words suffers from Unknown Identity Syndrome. He’s someone who is lost and doesn’t see any way out. And with no alternative in sight, he just gives up.

Whenever we have a problem we turn to Torah for the solution1. In Torah, one of the main themes is Moshiach2, the redemption to the world that everyone is so anxiously awaiting. But going deeper, into the teachings of Chassidus, Moshiach not only becomes something to wait for, but a reality that even now here in exile are able to live with and make part of our personal outlook3. Not only as a taste of the future, but as a preparation for its arrival. Taking this idea to heart, let’s take a step into this reality and see how we are going to exist and identify ourselves in the Moshiach era, and then come back to our world, only this time with the Moshiach reality leaving the way.

Stepping into this futuristic model, we take a look at Commandments when Moshiach comes. Already discussed in Gemara4, a major question arises, asking “will Mitzvos be nullified in the era to come (Moshiach)? Through the back and forth that only the Gemara could do, it reaches a conclusion, stating that in fact Mitzvos will be nullified in the Messianic era! Begging to be understood, Chassidus5 steps up to the plate with a brilliant explanation. Let’s first look at ourselves when Moshiach comes, and with this we will be brought out to the light. When Moshiach comes we will no longer experience ourselves as something separate from G-d, because his unity and oneness will prevail into all existence, raising up the world and all that is in it. Therefore the only thing we could fathom doing as a human is something that expresses the Almighty. Because not being a separate existence means that the only thing we can identify with is the open truth of being a part of the G-dly. In other words, if a person would to see the opportunity to do a divine act, he wouldn’t have to fight with himself to choose what’s right, but almost spontaneously he would jump to the occasion. Because he only sees himself in a space of, not what’s best for me, but how can I express the divine. Because to do it for G-d is what he identifies himself with. Meaning, that to have a G-dly identity is to define myself by what I do for G-d. So both doing good and keeping away from bad is not an obligation added to me, it’s my very being. So in this light, a person will not have to be commanded to do what’s right and good, but on the contrary, as the very expression of his/her identity. Just like a person doesn’t need to be commanded to continue breathing, so to a person will do only what G-d wants because that’s what defines his very existence. And that’s why the Gemara says Mitzvos will be nullified when Moshiach comes. Not because the physical actions that represent G-d will are going to go away, but the need to COMMAND (mitzvah) us to do them will disappear. We will still do them, but now as the expression of whom we are.

Bringing this idea back into our lives, we see ourselves in a whole different way. No longer do we see two separate realities that want opposites, rather we are just an expression of the Almighty. It’s not that we have one good side and one bad side, but our whole reality is naturally in line with G-d because we have no two sides that will give us a choice of something else. Only in exile where the true identity of a person isn’t expressed are we left to decide by whatever impulses come our way. But if we allow Chassidus to define our lives in a way where we live with the reality of Moshiach, then that we are becomes very apparent, and gone is the problem of Unknown Identity Syndrome!

So, let’s step back into the space of our confused fellow and use this identity to find who the person really is. The only reason why he is having the struggle in the first place is because he is allowing the decision of who he is to be left up to the moment. And because at any moment he thinks he could fail, so he isn’t  giving himself the option of seeing himself as the person he really is, even if he hasn’t acted yet. But if from the outset he came to the fight with only one side, one already decided identity, then the other side doesn’t faze him because it’s not real in the first place. Just like he can’t step out of his skin, so too he can’t run away from himself, and therefore he approaches the battle with only the good side, AKA, himself. But to just know this isn’t enough, we have to come to the decision on a conscious and practical level, to decide for real that I will be who I am, no one else!

Let’s put this into context. Someone just told his friend about a new food called jelly. You put some of it on your knife and spread it as a topping to eat. So he goes to the store and  buys a knife and jar of jelly and he’s ready to try out his new spread. But he soon realizes that the guy scammed him. Because he never told him that I also need an item with which to apply your jam! Thinking about this story, you may be very shocked to discover how silly this guy seems to be, obviously you need a base to apply anything that has the power of application. Chassidus is the same way. We may learn a lot and even get excited from our learning. But we at the same time we may look at ourselves as an outside, saying that Chassidus can be applied, but not to me. You don’t want to accept this change of perspective, that all that Chassidus says is possible, because to have your thought, speech, action, and attitude all in line with G-d seems like a monumental task that only someone with superior skills can master. But if we would just accept for real and make the decision that the reality that Chassidus allows me to enter can also be applied to me, then everything that G-d wants of me can actually get accomplished. I don’t need to buy a base for the application of Chassidus to go on top of, but as we see from the times Moshiach, I have all those possibilities, because that’s who I really am, and therefore I am the perfect candidate for the things Chassidus expect of humanity. It’s just up to me to accept being an expression of G-d as my true identity, and with that everything in Chassidus is practical, because I am living in the Moshiach reality.

Chassidus gives us many tools that allow that reality to be possible. Whether it’s the ability to think that G-d always watches over his children, or the ability to connect to the Rebbe to help you find your own path, it’s just up to us to take advantage of the gift of Chassidus that G-d gave up and truly serve him properly. And it starts with this decision, that my life doesn’t need that which doesn’t represent G-d, because they don’t reflect me. We can’t allow ourselves to be left out because we can’t seem to muster the strength to make this decision, rather trust in your maker and you will find yourself. And this is the attitude that allows us to take the first step into the arena of Avodas haChasidus. Because the children of the Almighty are the best at doing what right, like a person is best at expressing his true identity. No longer will you be serving G-d with routine movements, but every second of your life will be filled with will a passion and drive to make G-d happy, because as humans, that’s what we do best!

In synopsis, a person may truly have an identity issue which he thinks must control his life. Because he thinks that he can’t all of a sudden drop half of himself, so to stop feeling selfish and worldly is impossible! But with the redefined understanding of what is a person, that it’s not a decision that can be decided in the moment based on your feelings, but it’s your very identity that you came to the conclusion about who you are really, he can realize that he never have a separate side to fight with, but rather his whole being can express G-d, because that who he identifies with doing. Therefore to do anything else other than something that G-d wants is totally out of the question. And with this decision, the evil impulse in you won’t disappear, but you will realize that all it wants to accomplish is for you to forget your true identity. Therefore you will push it away and tell yourself, “I will act like the person I know I am, and not fall into the falsehood of evil. And we can leave this essay telling ourselves “I now have so many reasons to be happy serving G-d, but mainly because there is no greater joy in life than being who I really am!”


1.Zohar part 3, 53b

2.Look in Rambam Hilchos Melachim chapter 11

3.Likutai Sichos volume 15 parshas vayishlach 19 kislev

4.Nidda 63

5.Sefer HaSichos 5752 night of Simchas Torah. This sicha is the basis for most of the discussion here.

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