Abraham Joshua Heschel,
God Likes New Things, p.2

"Imitation is forbidden," Reb Yitzhok Meir said once. We learn this from the creation of heaven and earth - no single thing that was created is the same as a second thing. We learn it from the patriarchs as well. Our father Abraham's special characteristic was modesty. He says: "And I am dust and ash." (Genesis 18:27) When Isaac comes along, he sees that the Philistines are imitating Abraham's words, interpreting them literally: "And all the wells . . . the Philistines clogged up and filled with dust" (Genesis 26:15) - everything was becoming dusty and ashy. Instead, he began working on another characteristic: "He dug a different well" (Genesis 26:22).

When a person grows old and he is losing his strength, the only thing that's left for him as far as worship goes is: either to imitate what others do or to imitate himself, to imitate what he used to do.6

But Kotsk holds that one may not imitate the other and one may not imitate himself. Imitation is false. Therefore one is forbidden to be old. And the problem is that people grow old while still young. Kotsk claimed that freshness stands higher than piety. The older the colder; what's newer is truer. What is holy comes unexpected.

"You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which man shall carry out and by which he shall live" (Leviticus 18:5) - commandments must be done with freshness, with enthusiasm, with liveliness. And live by them!7

6 Emes VeEmuno, 599
7 oral transmission

Jonathan Boyarin is the author of several books and articles, including Thinking in Jewish


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