The Big Fat Zero

The Big Fat Zero

We both had kids to pick up at nursery school/ the babysitter in 20 minutes, so Efrat and I opened up our handy Netivot Shalom on the parsha and looked for the shortest commentary to sprint through for our weekly Thursday morning chavruta…

How utterly cool it was to start reading, and to discover that in our most rushed chavruta of all time we had stumbled across the purpose of life itself.

The Netivot Shalom zt”l wrote:
“A certain part of the Torah belongs to every Jew from his or her birth, and every single day a spark from that [individual] part of the Torah lights up in accordance with what he or she needs to fix on that particular day. And every single day the matter [that he or she needs to fix] is different from every other day…”

“Our holy books teach in the name of the Arizal that every single day and every single hour is like none other since the Creation of the world up until that point, and so too every single human being is like none other since the Creation of the world up until that point, and that means that one person is unable to fix what another person fixes, since every day every single person has a special purpose in life and role that is unique to him or her.”

Efrat and I didn’t really get the part about each of us being born with our own individual part of the Torah. Does that mean that, like, I’m Leviticus 28:2 and Efrat is Deuteronomy 2:1? Or is it more general, like Efrat’s soul is connected with Sara Imenu and my soul shares a deep, primordial connection with Bilha or Milka or Zilpa? (If one of you wise JewishMOMs DOES understand what this concept means, I would love to hear an explanation in the comments below).

But what we really did connect with is the idea that I am unique, and every day of my life I am correcting something that nobody else in the whole world can.

This really hit the spot since I have a tendency to get quite intimidated by a certain kind of Israeli. If you live here, maybe you know the type. They are generally settlers or the children of settlers. They are non-stop powerhouses. They are idealistic and beautiful and wise. Their houses are spotless. Their multitude of closely-spaced kids are perfect. They are fixing the world as psychologists or night-shift emergency-room nurses or as my daughters’ teachers.

And there is something about their awe-inspiring confidence and accomplished-ness coupled with their superwoman abilities to balance home/kids/full-time jobs so apparently effortlessly (despite morning sickness and newborn babies and a 2-hour daily commute) that consistently makes me feel like a big fat ZERO.

But really, the Netivot Shalom explains, comparing myself with anybody else is a really silly and pointless waste of time.

I have my gifts and challenges.

And they have their gifts and challenges.

I am fixing what I need to fix.

And they are fixing what they need to fix.

And that’s great. In fact, it’s better than great. It’s perfect. Because that is exactly, exactly the way Hashem wants things to be.


  1. So I have actually learned this section with my husband before. What we felt it meant (based on other sections we learned in Netivot Shalom) was that everything in this world is a piece of Torah. Obviously, everything was and will be and is connected to The Divine. So when each of us are born we are connected to a certain aspect of The Divine built into this world that will guide us to fulfill our tafkid. It could be based on our birth date, our genealogy, our name,etc. Or it could be connected to something we have no idea about, something only Hashem knows that He instilled in us. You are so right – I totally agree – It’s a great piece of Torah to remind us that we are all created exactly in the way we needed to be to fulfill OUR mission and should try to never compare ourselves to anyone else since we are each created completely differently

  2. I think the message here is to just let people be who they are meant to be. Look at yourself and the special place you occupy in the world, not at others or the stereotypes/assumptions regarding their personalities or lives. I think the message you brought to us from the Netivot Shalom should go on the refrigerator, or someplace where peole will be reminded that they are holy and special and that Hashem gives them each hour of the day to fulfill their mission in the world. That will lessen the need to look around at others.

  3. Esther Baila Schwartz once taught us that every morning when we wake up, we should daven to Hashem and ask Him to help us to be in touch to the spirituality of THAT day. Each day has it’s own tafkid and spirituality and it’s very easy to just run through the day and miss it. So we need to really ask Hashem to help us find it in the midst of our motherhood marathon.

  4. I just saw a suggestion made by Miami mayor Carlos Gimanez to call the yishuvim “developments” instead of “settlements”, since they are contributing to developing Israel. I know nothing about him, but I liked that description. As I mentioned in a previous comment, “settler” is a politically loaded word and a stereotype. [just for the record – I live on a yishuv and am a psychologist, but am more of a slug than a powerhouse]

    • debi, I would love to hear alternative ways to say “settler.” Please send me your ideas…

  5. when i was visiting Israel in the 1970’s, the communities being built on the newly acquired land were called Development Towns. i only became aware recently that the “settlements” are the “new” name for development towns. i agree with debi that the word is politically loaded. it is time to change back to the old more innocent name…

    as to the original post, i remember a story about Reb Zusha of Anipoli. He once was asked if he was afraid of how he would be received by the Bet din she Ma’alah. he answered, “I am not afraid that They will ask me why i was not as learned as Moshe Rabenu, as i am not Moshe. I am not afraid that They will ask me why i was not as great as David Hamelech, as i am not David. I am only afraid to answer why i was not the best Zushe i could have been…”
    we all have our missions in this world, each one according to his way, and each one necessary to complete the redemption.

    • thanks tamar, that’s a beautiful thought. I am stumped on the “settler” issue. As I’ve said before, I use this term with great respect, and I assume that the vast majority of JewishMOM readers do to. This word gives a sense of the pioneering mesirut nefesh involved in living in these more dangerous areas of Eretz Yisrael. And I am not thinking of a good alternative. “Resident of Judea and Samaria” for example is long-winded and awkward. I would appreciate your (and debi’s) suggestions. Today I was writing an article about the Zviler Rebbe, and I wanted to mention the settler women I saw there, but in the end I just didn’t mention them, since I remembered that debi doesn’t like this term, but I couldn’t think of another one that would fit in without being awkward. Again, I would love to hear suggestions for how to refer to this group of people I admire so much.

  6. Thanks for these sentences:

    “I have my gifts and challenges.
    And they have their gifts and challenges.
    I am fixing what I need to fix.
    And they are fixing what they need to fix.
    And that’s great. In fact, it’s better than great. It’s perfect. Because that is exactly, exactly the way Hashem wants things to be. ”

    BeH bli neder I will meditate on those for 1 minute every day…in fact I formatted them nicely and printed them for my “inspiration” section in the kitchen =)

    What about calling the ‘settlers’ “halutzim’ or pioneers? Frontier people?

  7. back in the 1920’s, when my grandparents joined Macabi Youth and Shomer Hatzair in russia and poland to be pioneers in eretz yisrael, they were called Halutzim. i wonder when that term disappeared?
    i guess i’ve really been out of the loop… if it helps any, i still think of the “settlers” as halutzim. let’s use that phrase, as it connotes truly courageous and multi-talented visionaries who pactice what they preach.

  8. Sharon Saunders

    Not that we shouldn’t connect to the whole Torah, but I think that each individual connects especially to one precept, be it welcoming guests, guarding one’s tongue, teaching, davening, etc. We may strive to do it all, but having that particular bit of the Torah identifying with your person, your soul, is part of what makes us special.

  9. Your birthday, is Hashem’s way of telling you that the world couldn’t go on without you. Each day that your neshama is returned to you He is continuing that mission that YOU have a purpose that no one else can fulfill. Otherwise why would He bother to keep you here. We don’t have the total insight unless we are a tzaddik to determine which our particular mitzvah is but generally there are two indicators. The one that the Yetzer hara puts up the biggest fight to keep you from accomplishing is one clue. The other is something that when you do it, you feel really connected to Hashem and the Torah. We learned in EMETT classes that comparisons lead to Temper. You have no idea what challenges or difficulties are in someone else’s life. When you see that others accomplish that much more, or seem better focused etc. that does not diminish what you do in any way. Your neshama is battling its own challenges of your physical body, background, and temperament. And only YOU can win the war. Thanking Hashem each morning as we wake up gets us to remember that we each can connect to Hashem daily and make the world a better place.

  10. Rachel Aviner

    There’s an idea that each of the 600 000 souls of the Jewish people are connected to each one of the 600 000 letters in the Torah. Meaning that each soul has their own unique portion of Torah that they themselves are uniquely fulfilling at any given moment; this is why if a sefer Torah is missing a letter it is passul – that each and every Jew has to come together in order to accomplish Hashem’s purpose for us in this world

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