18 Iyar 5779 / Thursday, May 23, 2019 | Torah Reading: Bechukotai
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Arrogance, Talent, and Recognition    

Arrogance, Talent, and Recognition

A high school teenager asks Rabbi Lazer Brody about Judaism’s view on talent, recognition, and arrogance. Are we allowed to seek recognition for our achievements?


Dear Rabbi:

I've realized lately that I very much enjoy recognition. This isn't a new development – it’s a continuation of my entire childhood (I am now 17). This seems to show that this is a middah (character trait – LB) with which I was born. I try very hard not to act on it because one of the things I am most turned off by in others is arrogance. For example, I live in a dorm right now in a women’s seminary. Thank G-d, I have a nice voice and love to sing (as singing makes me feel closer to Hashem). But, I hardly ever sing out loud when there are people around, even when I genuinely want to sing for Hashem, because I know that I'll also be hoping that people are listening and admiring my voice.
I have many more examples of the above phenomenon in my life because, B"H, I have been blessed with several talents. But this also makes it harder for me to deal with this thirst for attention. I always wish for special recognition from teachers. I want them to think that I'm special, and I yearn for them to have a special relationship with me. I hardly ever go to ask them hashkafic (Jewish outlook – LB) questions that bother me though because I hate the thought of being just another student with just another regular question, and I'm also afraid that if I do go, I'll ask an unnecessary question just to show that I'm deep or have some kind of extra special neshama. How am I to deal with this midda? Should I try to stamp it out by trying to avoid all recognition? Or is there a way I can use it for the good?
With respect and appreciation, Ruchi
Dear Ruchi,
Our sages say that all our deeds should be for Hashem's sake and in the sanctification of His holy name.  Let me give you an example: if you can sing in such a way that would create a Kiddush Hashem in public and bring other girls and women closer to Hashem, such as inspiring them with your beautiful voice, then you shouldn't keep it a secret.  If people give you recognition, then that is from Hashem, but you should neither actively seek the recognition nor yearn for it. With emuna, we simply do our best to bring gratification to Hashem – that’s more than enough incentive, and it beats a round of applause in this world any day of the week. 
But, know one thing - your talents and ability are also from Hashem.  When you remember that, you can use your talents and you won't become arrogant.  Overdoing "artificial humility" can sometimes actually be the epitome of arrogance.  Use your talents to the best of your ability, for the good of the Jewish people and society in general, and for Hashem's sake - just don't boast about them and don't actively seek recognition.  Remember that everything comes from Hashem and thank Hashem for all your blessings and you'll be fine.
With blessings for your continued success and a wonderful shidduch when the time comes, Lazer Brody
(We invite you to visit Rabbi Lazer Brody’s award-winning daily web journal Lazer Beams)

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