Like most people, I wear many different hats in different situations. I’m a mother, rabbi, friend, youth director, sister, daughter, wife, avid walker, just to name a few of my roles. Where I get in trouble is when I’m wearing one hat while others are expecting me to wear another. Some time ago, my daughter came down with a fever while at school, and it happened to be in the middle of a terrible day for me. This extra weight was the straw that broke this mother’s back. To make my already grumpy mood worse, I took her temperature again when we got home, and it was normal (of course). And later that day when I needed to be wearing my rabbi hat, I was still wearing my frustrated mom hat, and this led to confused feelings and some mismatched expectations all around. The truth is, I’m all of these people all the time, even if I don’t feel like acting like it.
These days, it’s even more confusing, since I’m doing most of my job as a rabbi from home. The lines have further blurred between work life and home life. When am I a rabbi? When am I a mommy?
The Torah this week teaches us a similar lesson as the Israelites learn what it is to be a free society. This week we read from Parshat Bamidbar, the beginning of the fourth book of the Torah. This text brings us to an accounting of the people, showing us who each of the tribes are and what numbers they held at this moment. Each tribe is denoted with a flag which marks their territory. This is the beginning of an organized and well thought out society, a change from the free flow and uncertainty they faced leaving Egypt, and also a change from the tight restrictions they had while in Egypt.
The text begins with a list of the ways in which the Israelites are to march through the desert and set up their camps. In chapter 2, verse 17 we read, “Then, midway between the divisions, the Tent of Meeting, the division of the Levites, shall move. As they camp, so they shall march, each in position, by their standards.” Logistically, this means that the Levites are broken into two units during the march, but the Israelite troops remain intact at all times.
However, another interpretation of “As they camp, so they shall march” could be that individuals should be the same person at home as away from home, in private as in public. True, my home and my family provide a safe space for me to let down my hair and let off some steam, but I’m still a mother and a wife when I leave the house, just as I’m still a rabbi everywhere. This is especially true now, when I’m doing much of my work as a rabbi from my home. That’s not to say I can’t express my emotions or vent now and then. The important thing to remember is that one hat doesn’t define you or anyone else. To be a well-rounded individual, you will naturally take on a variety of roles, but parts of you shouldn’t disappear just because you’re in a different environment or talking to different people at any given time. In other words, instead of removing one hat to put on another, wearing all of them (using all of your experience and expertise in daily life) means you’re truer to your authentic self.