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  • Writer's pictureRandy Lubratich

18 Elul 5783/September 4, 2023

by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker


As the Days of Awe approach, we ask, “Who am I?”

Before we respond to this profound question, let’s appreciate that how we might answer is greatly impacted by our society and culture. Joseph Heinrich explains in, “The WEIRDest People in the World,” that WEIRD people: (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic), tend to respond to that question by sharing one’s profession or character traits. “Who am I?” - “I’m an accountant,” or “I’m passionate and creative.” The question is about me – it’s a question about my story.

Heinrich points out that people from non-WEIRD cultures tend to answer the same question quite differently. “Who am I?” - “I’m the child of these parents,” or “I’m a member of this clan/tribe.” A traditional Jewish name – our name, child of our parents, and sometimes our tribe – reflects that orientation. In such societies, the question is not about “me.” It’s about how I am a part of something bigger than myself – a family, a community, a People.

As we do the work of cheshbon hanefesh – taking account of our souls – this kind of awareness can help us transform our reflections. We should reflect on our individual deeds and actions. We should reflect on our relationships and the ways we allow our obligations to others impact our lives. We should reflect on our values – both individual and communal – and how well we live them. This change, this expansion of mind, can more fully help us prepare as we ask ourselves, “Who am I?”

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