D’var Torah: High School Musical and Zusya’s Question

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 4 April 2019

I have a small confession to make.
I’ve never seen High School Musical.

The first time I see it will be the first performance of this year’s Academy show, on Saturday evening, 4 May (tickets are available – see the email, website and shul sheet for details).

This being the case, I had to ask my – slightly younger and infinitely cooler – colleagues what it was about.
So, I asked each of them a question:  In one sentence, what is the main moral, the main message, of the film?

And almost without fail, they gave a version of the same answer:
Be true to yourself; be true to who you are, each of us is different; support others in being true to who they are.

Now, I have no idea at all if this is the moral of High School Musical.  But I do know that it is a moral in Jewish tradition.

Nowhere is it expressed more beautifully than in the saying of Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol.  In the world to come, he said, “They will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses; they will ask me, ‘why were you not Zusya?'”

Once in a while each of us must ask ourselves Zusya’s question.  Not, why did we not live up to the expectations others have of us, or why did we not achieve above and beyond ourselves, but
“What stops me from being the very best version of me?”

There is a very strong pressure to confirm in our tradition, and we know that there are strong social pressures in our lives.  But we also have to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, to be true to ourselves and our talents.
The first call of the Jewish people is God’s call to Abraham – Lech l’cha – go, for yourself – go and fully realise who you can be.

And to fulfil the unique talents that we bring.
For each of us is different, with different strengths and weaknesses, different interests and aptitudes.  That difference itself is sacred in Jewish tradition.  The Mishnah states, “A single person was created [in the Creation Story] to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One.  For when human beings mint many coins from the same mold, the coins are all alike. But the Holy One has stamped every human with the mold of the first person, and no two descendants are alike. Thus each of us must say, ‘For my sake was the world created’.

Or, as I believe High School Musical states:
“Everyone is special in their own way,
We make each other strong,
We’re not the same,
Were different in a good way”