Parashat Vayese: Fulfilling Our Mission
After the birth of Leah’s second son, Shimon, Leah declared, "Shama Hashem Ki Senu’a Anochi" – "G-d heard that I was unloved" and thus blessed her with children. Leah was referring to the fact that Yaakob loved her less than he loved his other wife, her sister Rahel.
Significantly, Leah here uses the word "Anochi" ("I"), as opposed to the more common word, "Ani." Rav Shabtai Sabato (contemporary), in his book Va’tisa’eni Ruah, notes that there is a very important difference between these two terms. "Ani" is used when the speaker simply needs to identify himself, to make it clear that he is speaking about himself. The word "Anochi," however, refers to a person’s essence and purpose, the reason why has come into the world. When somebody refers to himself with the term "Anochi," he speaks not just of himself, but of his unique mission for which he was created. We believe that each and every individual was created for a specific purpose, and no two people share the precise same purpose. G-d created each person in a specific time and place, and with specific abilities and talents, and gives that person his or her specific circumstances throughout his or her life, for a very specific reason. We each have our role to fulfill in this world, and this role is signified with the term "Anochi."
Rav Sabato shows how all four of our Imahot (matriarchs) – Sara, Ribka, Rahel and Leah – used the term "Anochi" in reference to their roles in this world, but perhaps the most practically relevant instance for us is the verse cited above, when Leah proclaims, "Shama Hashem Ki Senu’a Anochi." Leah was placed into a difficult and painful set of circumstances. Every young woman dreams of marrying and building a special relationship with a husband. Leah, however, ended up being married to the same man as her sister, and Yaakob loved her sister more than her. But in her great faith and humility, Leah was able to declare, "Senu’a Anochi," that this very difficult situation reflects "Anochi," her divinely-assigned role in life. We can hardly imagine the greatness of spirit needed to accept such circumstances with this level of faith, to acknowledge that her unique mission in this world necessitated this challenge. Leah heroically withstood this challenge, and she was rewarded with many children and with the unique privilege of being the only wife of Yaakob buried alongside him in Me’arat Ha’machpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron).
We all have challenges in life that we need to overcome in order to fulfill our missions in life. As parents, we firmly believe that raising children is one of vitally important missions, and we realize that this mission entails a great number of difficult challenges. Whichever profession one chooses and identifies as his mission, he occasionally finds himself fatigued and uninspired from the day-to-day grind. When a person chooses to volunteer his time for an important cause, realizing that this is part of his mission, he might find himself regretting the decision when difficult obstacles present themselves. We all face unique challenges, whether it’s a medical issue, a child with special needs, difficulties in securing a livelihood, and so on, and we might find ourselves asking, "Why me?" At such times, we must remind ourselves of our matriarch Leah, who understood that life’s challenges are an integral part of life’s mission which we are all to fulfill.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1902-1994) would send young Lubavitch Rabbis to places around the world to spread Judaism, and he impressed upon them that this work fulfilled the purpose for which they were brought into the world. Once, a certain emissary in a certain town wrote to the Rebbe and explained that he experienced certain medical conditions that made it very difficult for him to continue his work. He asked the Rebbe if he could be relieved of this responsibility.
The Rebbe wrote a brilliant response: "Why are you asking to be relieved of your duty? You should instead ask Hashem to relieve you of your medical conditions!"
We should never ask to be relieved of our mission in this world. We should accept and embrace this mission, and feel privileged and special to be assigned by G-d Himself a unique job that He gave to nobody else. Even when the job becomes challenging and difficult, we must remember that there is no greater privilege, and no better way to live, than fulfilling our G-d-given mission.