Who Are You Trying To Impress?

June 10th 2015

By Rabbi Jonny Ross

There was a class I used to attend regularly, that required a large amount of analytical thinking. Despite being there several times a week, I never used to say much, as at points it was a little out of my depth and the teacher was a super genius who I didn’t quite have the guts to approach. But one time a question came up in my mind that I was sure I was going to retire on and would earn me the admiration of the whole class or so I thought. I raised my hand and timidly started to ask, but after only a few words in, I was immediately cut off by the teacher who shouted out aloud “WOW! That’s a good question. I was hoping someone would ask that. That’s a really finely thought out question. Well done!”

I honestly felt like I had scored the winning goal in the world cup finals and a feeling of superiority crept over me that me, with my brain, had masterminded the most intellectual feat that anyone had ever tasted. He then turned to the rest of the class and asked if everyone had heard my question. A lot of them hadn’t (ordinary folk with ordinary brains) so he began to repeat it and the more that he explained my question to everyone, the more I began to feel that something wasn’t quite right. The question that the teacher was repeating wasn’t the one that I had asked!! It was a much better one and one that I probably wouldn’t have thought of. This was summed up by the “helpful” student sitting next to me who interrupted with a cry of: “That wasn’t his question! His question was..” and then started to repeat the original question that I had asked in the beginning, which had by now lost all of its shine and seemed like the kind of question that might be asked by a particularly stupid sheep. The teachers face dropped from elation to something bordering on disdain. “Oh” he said “that’s all your question was?” All eyes in the room were focussed solely on me and I was faced with a choice: Do I swallow my embarrassment and tell the truth or do I lie and gain the respect of the class?

In Parshas Sh'lach we find that the Jewish people descend down to the very depths of the abyss when a crack elite squad of twelve specially chosen high ranking officials are formed in order to spy out the Land of Israel. The entire event turned into a total disaster as the group switched their allegiances away from G-d and rallied the people to rise up and take a stand back towards Egypt, casting such severe doubt among the people that they cried and cried deeply at the terrible events they perceived were about to happen. They no longer wanted to enter into the Land of Israel

The Torah says that actually there were two among the group that did not follow in the path of the others – Calev and Yehoshua and each of them employed special degrees of assistance in order for them to be able to withstand the temptation to join what was the popular culture at the time. Calev took a detour while the others went on a fruit picking exercise and prayed that he would have the strength not to join the ranks of the rabble-rousers and Yehoshua was given a unique name change by Moshe himself (from Hoshea to Ye-hoshua) which had the power within it to give him the courage to combat the naysayers.

We see from here how careful we have to be regarding the company one keeps as a bad influence from either ones neighbours or friends can quickly become you. This obviously works in both ways and if we can keep the positive influences coming in then that too has its effects.  All too often we are in need of Divine assistance in order to navigate our way through the challenges and perils that are lying in wait for us in this area and each of us should cordon off some proper introspection time to ask ourselves if we are dealing with the trial of outside influences appropriately, because most of us don’t have the assurances of Moshe looking out for us nor the power of Calev’s prayer as our weapon and if we aren’t constantly checking ourselves and seeing what we look like in the spiritual mirror, who knows what we will find looking back at us one day.

So when you have a quiet moment, ask yourself the following questions: If you were completely unconcerned about what others would think about you, what sort of things might you be able to accomplish in your life? How do you feel when people like you because they think you are someone that you are not? How much energy do you spend doing things to favourably impress others?  And if it is a lot, is it worth it?

I think that you will have some interesting things to think about if you can answer these questions honestly. I know that I did that day sitting in that class.