In a hadisic tale, Rabbi Zusya, after his death, is summoned before a heavenly court.
He trembles as he prepares to put forward the case for his life, because he fears that he has not lived up to the standards he, and others, laid out for him. “Why were you not Moses?”, he fears being asked. “Why did you not strive to become more like the greatest teacher and leader of your people’s history?”
And so it is for us. We fear we have not lived, because our lives are not like those of fame or fortune or great deeds. We fear that we’ll be shown to be inadequate, because we were not able to seize life and shape it entirely to our will.
But the story does not go as Zusya expects.
“Zusya,” say the court “we do not care whether you were like Moses, or like any other great figure. That would have been an abandonment of yourself. We want instead to know, why you were not Zusya?”
For Zusya, trying to become Moses – however noble – is a journey away from himself, and away from his life. But becoming Zusya, a far more perilous and uncertain path, is a journey back home.
Why are the court so bothered about this? Because without Zusya being Zusya, something of genuine value is withheld from the world. Some unique, idiosyncratic, vibrant contribution forever denied to those around him, and to himself. A contribution that can never be fully realised as long as he is pursuing someone else’s life. Discovering this is, in the end, Zusya’s great work.
And so it is for us.