We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Refrain from saying something that is unnecessary and might somehow cause harm. Listen instead.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Situations Lesson #17
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Which is the straight path that a person should choose?
איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבר לו האדם?
Ayzo Hee Derech Y’shara She’yovor Lo Ho’Adam?
Perek Bais, Mishna Alef Part 1
Story: (based on a true story)
Viewing ourselves through the lens of someone else is never an easy task. Very often we ourselves are either harder upon ourselves, or are simply clueless as to the thoughts and opinions of those around us! As women, we know this all too well. How many times do we can catch ourselves asking friends, "Do I look too fat in this dress?" and our friend replies with a shocking answer of, "On the contrary, you look so slender!" And, when on a completely different occasion, we walk out in an outfit so unbecoming on us, that our friend probably wishes we'd have asked for her opinion, yet we think we look all the rage!
Life choices and behavior can mirror fashion sense. Recently my oldest daughter entered the dating scene. As a ba'a'las t'shuva, I met my husband when we were both secular and we became frum together before we got married, so my daughter's experience would be the first time that we'd be entering the shidduch world. We both entered very naive, and came out with armfulls of life lessons, straighter backbones and for my daughter, a better sense of what sort of life she should choose for herself, and most importantly, a wonderful husband to share that life with! However, before she could reach those lofty goals, she had to earn some respect from those around her, and that we found was the key to her success.
We realized early on that our family was not typical. Perhaps we'd known this all along, but proof was in the pudding when we'd met with several shadchanim. Each meeting resulted in a painful attempt to drive our metaphorical square peg into their round hole, and when it wouldn't fit, frustration could be felt on both sides. Soon enough, we had to realize that the typical shidduch world wasn't quite for us. Sadly though, it took me some time to catch on.
In an attempt to mold ourselves to their standards, I urged my daughter to alter her unique and very forthright resume. "Perhaps tone it down a bit?" I asked her one day. "Make it less specific."
My daughter had very strong standards in wanting a traditional family, and already several of the shadchanim had balked at finding any boy who would be willing to take on a girl with such strong sentiments. At first of course, I had stood behind my daughters reasoning. She'd worked as a professional nanny for several years for a kollel family, and she saw first hand the challenges that lifestyle had on the children. She didn't judge the parents decision at all, she just felt that for her life, she preferred to stay home herself and raise her children rather than work outside the home. Since leaving her nanny job, she'd been steadily employed for several years at a nursing home and planned to continue that line of work after marriage. However, once children came along, they would become her main job. So, she was primarily looking for a mate who was a worker vs. a learner.
So when urging her to change her resume to a more standard, less 'up on a soap box about life ideals' resume, my daughter replied firmly and very forthright, "Absolutely not. My resume stays the way it is. I've thought about this and have considered the possibility. I’ve given it a lot of thought. I wondered at first if maybe the shadchanim were correct, that something might have been wrong with me and my ideals, or my approach in this, so I discussed this with my good friends--friends whom I really respect. My friends told me they are so proud of me for letting the real ‘me’ show through in my resume and for not bending on my standards. They all agreed that when my bashert comes along, he'll have the same convictions as me, and will be proud that I had the courage to go against the grain and write a unique resume. I had doubts, but for now, my resume is going to stay the way it is."
And so it did, along with us trying a unique way of finding her zivug. Instead of having anymore shadchanim look for matches for my daughter, I contacted everyone I knew, sent off her resume, and had my friends keep their eyes out for someone they might know, in addition to having them send her resume out to their friends, I’m sure you get the picture. And sure enough, in less than two months later, someone knew someone who knew THE ONE! Like my daughter predicted, her bashert not only agrees with her take on life, but commended her standards in regard to not bending on changing her resume. In fact, it was the resume that was the deciding factor that prompted him to agree to meet her in the first place! After he read it, he insisted on meeting her! Their views on life are so in-sync, and yet so similarly "old fashioned" to today's standards yet it works so beautifully for them! They are quite a unique couple. Watching from my perspective, I can see how all the people around them who know and admire them became a barometer - guiding them along with their love and respect!
"… האדם מן לו ותפארת לעשה תפארת איהש כל איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבר לו האדם?
“Ra’bi (Rabbi Yehuda) omer: Ayzo hee derech y’shara she’ya’vor lo ha’adam? Kol she’hi tif’eres l’oseha v’tiferes lo min ha’adam.”
“Rabbi says: “Which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself? Whatever is honorable for him and gains him the respect of fellow men.” (Perek Bais, Mishe Alef).
What is the meaning of Rabbi Yehuda’s question? After all, is Torah not the sole acceptable path for a Jew? Rabbi Yehuda’s answer is also surprising: “Whatever is honorable to him and gains him people’s respect.” Does Rabbi Yehuda intend to teach us that our goal should be to inspire others to congratulate us with a hearty “Well done?”
Within the realm of Torah, a person can make a wide range of choices. Rabbi Yehuda here explains that a correct decision must meet two criteria: what one does must be helpful to oneself, and it must also be considered praiseworthy by others. The straight path, therefore, is the golden mean: a measured generosity.
The mishna is urging us to consider how others would react to our behavior. The gemara in Nedarim 22b cites this mishna as a justification for annulling vows. While you may be perfectly comfortable in assuming vows of self-denial, think of how others may be discomfited by your behavior.
Another reason for determining the reaction of others before adopting a path in life, and the importance of being aware of the consequences of our behavior, is simply to avoid the innate biases to which we are all subject. It is virtually impossible for us to realize the flaws in our conduct. As Chazal teach (N’ga’im 2:5), “Ain adam ro’eh ni’gee’ai atzmo” - a person is unable to recognize his own plagues”, i.e. weaknesses.
If the mishna merely meant to point out the importance of obtaining the approval of others before adopting a path in life, it should have said “V’tiferes l’acheirim”, that it meets the approval of the others. The expression used here, “min ha’adam”, of fellow men, conveys another thought. In evaluating your own approach, consider how you would react if others behaved in a similar fashion.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What are examples of situations where you might be comfortable in saying negative things of self-denial, where others may be uncomfortable by your behavior?
Who do you safely trust to point out your weaknesses? Give examples.
Are there ever circumstances where you point out someone else's weaknesses?
Stretch of the Week:
Make a conscious effort to avoid saying negative things of self denial this week. If you feel yourself slipping, change the negative into saying something positive about yourself instead!