Before his death, the Hasidic Master Reb Zusya of Anipol said:

“In the world to come, they will not ask me: ‘ why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” [1]

We each have a job to do for God. It is a task that has been given to us and no one else. It is a role for which we are uniquely suited. We have been given the specific skills and attributes that we need to fulfill our personal mission. They are within us and not outside of us. They are part of us and not someone else.

Before his passing, Swami Vivekananda said to Swami Premananda, his brother disciple:

“Why should you imitate me? The Master would forbid one to imitate others.” [2]

He also gathered the young monks around him and told them,

“If any man ever imitates me; kick him out. Do not imitate me.” [3]

We do not want to be an imitation of anyone else. We do not want to try to fulfill another’s mission. We can never do that properly. We can only work from the place where we are – as the person who we are. God looks at who we are in ourselves and not how we compare to anyone else.

It is no use wishing that we had other virtues or other strengths. It is no use bemoaning our weaknesses and imperfections. With all of our struggles and all of our failings, we must pick ourselves up and do what we can for God. And we each can do so much more than we think.

When Hagar and Ishmael were banished from their home, they wandered off into the desert. When their water and other provisions had run out, Hagar sat the boy under a shrub and went off a distance and wept, for she did not want to watch him die. An angel then appeared to her and said,

”What ails you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the lad where he is.” (Gen. 21: 17)

In the above passage, the medieval commentator, Rashi, comments on the words “where he is”: “I [God] will judge him [Ishmael] according to his present actions.”

Each moment has its opportunity. Each moment offers the possibility for growth and service. God does not judge us based on some future achievement or activity. He judges us from the place where we are at this very moment. Therefore, we must grab a hold of the opportunity that is before us. We must each ask ourselves: what can we do for God right now?

To see ourselves as we truly are takes a certain level of humility. To recognize our imperfections demands tremendous honesty. To accept our failings without rancour takes a self-deprecating sense of humour. To see our weaknesses without giving in to despair or self-flagellation takes enormous strength.

There are times when the present moment seems without hope. There are times when we feel like we have missed our chance and are being left behind. At such moments we can only hold on to God and proclaim:

“Blessed are You, O Lord, Master of the Universe who has prepared the steps of human beings” (Morning blessings). I am who I am and I can only do what I can do. That is how God has made me; this is the path that He has prepared for me. I can only be myself.

Sister Devamata, a western nun of the Ramakrishna Order, spent time during the early years of the order in their Madras ashram with Swami Ramakrishnananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramkrishna. In her book, Days in an Indian Monastery, she describes the devotional singing during the evening worship. Swami Ramakrishnananda, she admits, had not much of a voice; and she and the other devotee who participated had even less. In fact, as Ramakrishnananda sang each stanza, his voice would get higher and higher until, in the end, they were singing through “the top of their heads”. However, despite this lack of musical ability, she assures us that:

“there was nothing ludicrous about it. No one could sit near Swami Ramakrishnananda at a time of worship and not feel a glowing fervour of spirit. Such power of devotion radiated from him that it lifted the thought entirely above the world and material concerns.” [4]

Swami Ramakrishnananda was completely himself. He knew he had no voice but it did not matter – the sheer power of his being made up for this lack. This is how we must learn to be.

A person who is truly him or her self is a rare individual. Such a person is a magnet that draws others to him or her. There are no facades or pretences to block the flow of life force through such a person. He is effective and authoritative in all that he does. He is clear and awake and serene.

In Zen Buddhism, we are taught that the ideal man just IS. Or as a Zen Master once explained to a friend of mine:

“When I eat, I eat, when I sleep, I sleep, and when I meditate, I meditate.”

On a deeper level, the process of being ‘as we are’ is about more than just being ‘ourselves’; it is about reaching beyond the personality and resting in God or the Self.

A devotee once asked Sri Ramana Maharshi: “What is peace?”

“Our very nature is peace”, replied Sri Ramana…“To be ourselves in fullness is peace or bliss” [5]

This peace is, in fact, a profound sense of inner stillness. This stillness has no reference to movement or non-movement. It is a deep stillness of the mind. It is a dynamic stillness that is alive with the presence of God or the Self.

This deep stillness is a powerful spiritual force. When we are anchored in this stillness, we become a rock for others to hold on to – a refuge of security and strength. Our very presence will calm the agitation of all those around us. It will quiet their minds and bring them peace.

These two processes of self-discovery and Self-realization are intimately interwoven. The more we learn to stop trying to be anyone else, the more we will become attuned to our own true nature. The more we are attuned to our own true nature, the more the emotional and mental turmoil inside us will subside. Once our internal turmoil is silenced, then we will begin to experience the deep stillness of the Self.

When we achieve this inner stillness we will no longer be just our selves, we will be more than ourselves. We will transcend our individual identities and abide in the eternal being of pure awareness. Then it will not matter if we are Moses or Zusya, because we will be one with the essence of all of existence. We will be one with the Self of all selves.


Copyright 2008, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1.  Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Book I, p. 251
  2. Swami Chetanananda, God lived with them, p. 72
  3. ibid, p. 71
  4. Sister Devamata, Days in an Indian Monastery, p. 64-65
  5. David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Vol. III, p. 143