Individuality seems to be a noble aspiration. Yet 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. Is that what G-d wants: That people lose their identities in the name of faith?
We find an unusual repetition in this week’s Torah portion, where the verse itemizes twelve times in succession the detailed offerings that the tribe leaders brought to dedicate the Temple. When describing these offerings, though the leaders each brought the exact identical gifts each on a different day, the Torah finds it necessary to repeat separately every detail of each tribe’s gift, not twice, not three, but repeating the 35-item gift list twelve times!
Though each leader technically brought the same offerings, each one did so with his unique personality, passion and creativity. Similar to twelve different master musicians playing the same symphony, yet each is doing so with his distinctive tone, inflections and spirit.
The Torah’s elaboration also enlightens us as to how we discover our own individuality, and repel the forces of conformity. We do so by bringing a sacred “offering” (as did the tribal princes in this week’s portion).
Your unique personality can only emerge when you become a giver, rather than a taker. When your inimitable soul begins to express itself in its own distinct voice. As long as you remain dependent on those around you, you have no choice but to conform to those that you rely upon.
What makes you unique is giving – what you give and how you give: Every individual has something different to give, and we all give in our own special way.
Bring an offering – commit to giving of yourself to others, initiate a class, be charitable, use your skills to do something fresh that will help others – and you allow your true self to emerge and allow your unique voice to play its own music.