It’s commonplace to question what our personal role is in this world? Of course we’re all here to serve Hashem and perform his mitzvos, but that’s a communal approach. We must believe very strongly that each one of us has something unique to contribute to the world, as the Talmud says (Sanhedrin 37a) “Everyone is obligated to say, this world was created just for me”. Or as I recently heard from Rabbi Yehoshua Gerzi, “the creative God created a world with creations who create”. But for many of us it’s hard to know what our specific task is.
Confusing the issue even more is when we notice others excelling in certain areas with ease. We might think to ourselves, ‘I wish things would come easier for me? Why can’t I naturally be good at anything? Why do I need to fight so hard just to do something so small’?
I saw something very encouraging in Tinyana 4 about this. The Rebbe says, “When someone who is naturally compassionate gives charity, due to his loving nature, it isn’t an act of devotion [to Hashem. In fact,] there are even animals that have compassionate instincts. Rather, the essential devotion is transforming ones cruelty into compassion”.
Let’s first clarify this statement. The loving person who gives charity surely performed a mitzvah. No one is taking that away from him. Every mitzvah brings us closer to Hashem, and this ‘easy’ mitzvah for Mr. Generosity is no different. But the point here is that he didn’t do an act of devotion (עבודה). Meaning, he didn’t work on himself. He didn’t move himself with this act to the next station. In a certain sense, he didn’t improve himself or become his ideal-self through this charitable act. Whereas the cheapskate who groans in pain with every penny that leaves his hands is molding himself into a new person with his act of charity. Similarly, it might seem that some people have strong faith, but maybe they’re just naturally optimistic? Or what about the people who have a table full of guests every Shabbos? Maybe they just love the action? Or maybe they’re afraid to be alone with their families? On the other hand, other families are more than content to spend Shabbos alone, yet they push themselves to invite guests and share their space.
I found this lesson so validating. It’s another example of how comparing ourselves to others breeds jealousy and is ultimately a fruitless undertaking. Every person is so different and only Hashem knows what’s considered an act of devotion and what was done from a person’s natural instinct. We’re lucky to be in a relationship with an infinitely great God who knows us so intimately. He wants us for who we are, whether we could compete with others or not. In His perfection, He has a 100% unique expectation of us. He wants nothing more from us and nothing less of us. The things that come naturally to us aren’t even necessarily the things that we’re here to accomplish. Those natural talents are useful assets for us, but it’s not absurd to think that by exerting ourselves, even in something totally unfamiliar to us, we can uncover a new part of ourselves that will lead us to our true personal perfection.