5 Tamuz 5781 / Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | Torah Reading: Chukat
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Everybody Does It!    

Everybody Does It!

Everyone else is doing it, so I will too. I gotta keep up with the Joneses! We all have a strong emotional need to conform – to be like everyone else...


Everyone else is doing it, so I will too. I gotta keep up with the Joneses!
We all have a strong emotional need to conform – to be like everyone else - even if it costs a lot of money or uses a lot of emotional energy. Even worse, however, the need to conform can cause us to adopt destructive behavior patterns. After all, if everyone is doing something, then why shouldn't I? Why should I be different?
Is it “in” to be "in," or maybe it's "in" to be "out?" Whatever it is, it’s a very confusing problem…
Rabbi Yosef Yozel Hurwitz, the Alter of Novordok suggested exercises to help his students stop worrying about how others view them. He would, for example, tell them to request nails in a drug store, and similar eccentric behaviors (this is not suitable for today's generation!).
Rabbi Yosef Yozel knew that the way to achieve inner strength is through overcoming embarrassment. These exercises gave his students the courage to live according to their principles, instead of being swept up in the current stream of popular values. This inner courage creates a protective wall against corrupting influences.
We, too, must learn to withstand the challenges of peer pressure and find the courage to say “no,” despite the derision of our contemporaries.
But first, we need to understand why we feel pressured to follow the latest fads; why we are afraid of being different.
Kavod – Honor, and Kinah – Jealousy
Kavod, honor, has the same root as kaved, heavy. When a person seeks honor, he wants to feel that he's worth something, that he “carries weight” so to speak. He erroneously believes that to be important, to “carry weight,” he must be the same as everyone else.
But only through using our unique abilities and actualizing our individual potential can we fulfill our exclusive – and important!- purpose in this world. We won't lose our serenity and composure through running after honor, just because that's what everyone else is doing.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said about this spark of individuality:
“Each Jew has a precious part within him, which is the aspect perceived as a ’point,’ (unconnected and separate) which is totally unique to him. This (unique) aspect, which he has more of than his fellow Jew, (should be used) to influence, enlighten and arouse the heart of his fellow” (Likutey Moharan Part I, 34).
Rebbe Nachman teaches that the more we actualize our inner spark of individuality, the more we can contribute to society. But if we lose our individuality, we also forgo this “precious part within” for the superficial goal of being like “everybody else.”
There are two types of kavod, honor: positive honor is internal, while negative honor is external.
When we seek positive honor - internal honor - we appreciate ourselves for who we are, and see ourselves as “carrying weight”; as being worthwhile. We are aware of our capabilities and find creative ways to actualize them. Through actualizing our potential, we are showing our respect for that spark of Divine within us. We are fulfilling our purpose in life.
This is true kavod, honor. If we believe in ourselves and in our path in life, we won't need compliments or medals to validate our self-esteem, nor will we be devastated by criticism.
But when we seek external honor – negative honor, we try to validate our own existence through others. We go to whatever extent possible to become "popular" and "in."
External honor is based superficialities, such as financial or social status, social status, dress, physical appearance etc. This type of honor is not real. Although on the surface it may appear attractive and glamorous, it is really empty and rotten.
If we live our life for external honor, to be validated by others, we stand to lose that precious individual spark of Divinity.
Jealousy is a power that can be used for either spiritual growth or spiritual destruction. To learn more about how to channel our jealousy, click here.
In general, however, jealousy is a negative trait. Stinginess and trying to keep up with the Jones' have their roots in jealousy and envy. In addition, the desire to be like everyone else can also end up costing a small fortune!
All of us have experienced the biting bitterness of jealousy. A neighbor, for example, invites us to see his renovations. After admiring the new additions and wishing him well, we return home and notice that our own house needs remodeling! Although we don't have the financial resources for such a major project, we decide, “There’s no choice. If they could do it, we also can. We’ll manage somehow.”
In our desire “to keep up with the Joneses,” we purchase items that we have no use for and as a result, we fall into debt.
How do we overcome envy and jealousy? Through calmly calculating our priorities; through making a list of what we need before spending. If we first evaluate whether a particular item or project is necessary and fits into our budget before we consider purchasing it, we will also stop desiring our neighbors' possessions.
Be Happy with What You Have
“Who is wealthy? One who is happy with what he has.” Our Sages taught us that if a person is happy with what he has, he will have no desire to copy others or compromise his principles or unique individuality. To internalize this concept, we should constantly tell ourselves that everything we have is the very best that could possibly be.
Our Sages said (Nedarim 41): “The only poverty is lack of awareness.” If we are not aware of what we have, we end up feeling poor, and focusing on what is missing.  Since we find it impossible to rejoice in what we do have, we mistakenly think that we're not a ‘somebody.’ We forget that the only way to become a ‘somebody’ is through connecting to our inner self.
In Megillat Esther (3:2) it states, “But Mordechai would not bow down or prostrate himself [to Haman].” Although all the servants of the King, including many Jews, bowed to Haman, Mordechai remained firm and refused to bow.
When Esther was forced to become the queen, many Jews viewed it as a positive development and rejoiced that they had a sister in the royal palace. Mordechai, however, did not share in their joy. He understood that the Jews of Shushan would never be saved as a result of political pull or having a "sister in the royal power." Only prayer and fasting – the unique tools of the Jewish nation - could save them. On a national level, as well, Mordechai understood that we are not "a nation like all the other nations." He was aware of our nation's uniqueness, and utilized that uniqueness.
Every generation needs individuals like Mordechai; individuals who remain firm in their convictions and refuse to be swayed by outside influences; individuals who are satisfied with what they have and aware of their own capabilities.
Only through knowledge of what we do have and who we really are will we have the courage to stand against the tide of peer pressure that threatens to engulf us in a void of anonymity. Through actualizing the unique spark that exists within us, we will be truly “in.”

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