WHAT PEOPLE SAY
Parashat Ki Tisa
The Avtinas family had a family secret. They were the only ones who knew how to make the Ketoret, the Temple Incense, in such a way that when it was brought on the Altar, the smoke would rise straight as a beam, and when it hit the ceiling, it would spread evenly over the ceiling and down the walls of the Temple. Majestically. This was due to their secret formula, one that was passed down from father to son. A formula that they would swear to each other not to reveal to a soul, one made from a herb known only to the family, called ×ž×¢×œ×” ×¢×©×Ÿ, literally, smoke raiser. Now, they also hiked up the price for their incense preparation services, and when the Rabbis tried to cut costs on the Temple expenses, they brought in incense experts from Alexandria to make the Ketoret, for a lower price. But the Alexandrianâ€™s Ketoret just did not have that majestic effect. The Rabbis wanted the Avtinas family to teach them the secret Ketoret recipe. The Avtinases refused, claiming that they had a family tradition that one day the Temple would be destroyed. If they were to reveal the secret, idol worshippers would eventually gain access to it, and they would serve their gods with our majestic Ketoret. Our Rabbis frowned on their decision.
Now, the family had a beautiful, praiseworthy custom. No woman from the Avtinas family would ever, ever, wear perfume. And, if a woman wanted to marry into the family, the marriage was on condition that she would never, ever wear perfume. Just so that, the people wouldnâ€™t say that they used the Temple incense for themselves. ×•×”×™×™×ª× × ×§×™×™× ×ž×”’ ×•×ž×™×©×¨××œ, And you will keep your (name) blameless with G-d and the Jewish people. (Bamidbar 32; 22) (Yoma 38a)
Moshe cited the aforementioned passuk to the Tribes that wanted to take possession of land on the other side of the Jordan River. Moshe told them that they could have that land, on condition that they go in to the Land of Israel with the rest of the Tribes, to fight and capture the territory. Moshe was telling them that they had to guard their good name, not giving people the suspicion that they were avoiding battle because of fear. This passuk is the basis for the laws of ×ž×¨××™×ª ×”×¢×™×Ÿ, the law that one needs to avoid casting any impression that his behavior is not in line with the Torah. This concept has almost limitless ramifications in Jewish law. Including laws of using parve milk, fundraising, fish blood, hanging up clothes that got wet on Shabbat, eating kosher food in a non-kosher restaurant, women wearing wigs that are not recognizable by other women as being wigs, etc. All these are subjects that need to be dealt with according to Halacha.
King Solomon, the wisest of men, said ×•×ž×¦× ×—×Ÿ ×•×©×›×œ ×˜×•×‘ ×‘×¢×™× ×™ ××œ×•×§×™× ×•××“× (Mishlei 3;4) And he found grace, and good sense, in the eyes of G-d and the eyes of people. K. Solomon, here, is teaching the secret of grace and charm. In the previous passuk, he says, ×—Ö¶×¡Ö¶×“ ×•Ö¶×Ö±×žÖ¶×ª ×Ö·×œ ×™Ö·×¢Ö·×–Ö°×‘Ö»×šÖ¸, ×§Ö¸×©Ö°××¨Öµ× ×¢Ö·×œ ×’Ö·Ö¼×¨Ö°×’Ö°Ö¼×¨×•Ö¹×ªÖ¶×™×šÖ¸, ×›Ö¸Ö¼×ªÖ°×‘Öµ× ×¢Ö·×œ ×œ×•Ö¼×—Ö· ×œÖ´×‘Ö¶Ö¼×šÖ¸, May loving kindness and truth not forsake you. Bind it as a reminder around your neck, write it on the tablet of your heart. If you constantly, forever remember the kindness G-d and people did for you, you will be gifted with grace and charm. People will like you. People will think of you as a person with common sense. It works like magic. (Try it! It works!)The Talmud Yerushalmi derives from these words of King Solomon that it is important to find favor in the eyes of people (Shekalim 3;2). And, the way to do this is to make sure that people do not suspect you of being a person who is not appreciative.
But why? Why does the Torah direct us to be so careful about what people think? Why do I have to care? Why canâ€™t I just ‘do my own thing’? Isnâ€™t caring what people think about me a mistaken outlook? If something I do is totally legal, why do I have to go the extra mile and be concerned about what others think about me or my behavior? Isnâ€™t it their responsibility to judge me favorably?
Even if we are not aware of it, every one has an internal drive and sensitivity called in Hebrew â€œMah Yagiduâ€, What people will say. That means that we are motivated, to a degree, by what people say or will say, about us and our behavior. Even people who say they don’t care what others think are usually just desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think. It seems that G-d hardwired our subconscious to care about what other people think about us. This is why people take loans they canâ€™t pay back, to make a wedding on a standard that they wish they were on. A four hour wedding can put them into two to three years of debt, something that makes no sense. Just because they care so much what people might say, lest they discover their true financial status.
We all have this emotional need to feel accepted, loved and approved of. This lies at the core of self- esteem. Your attitude toward yourself is determined largely by the attitudes that you think other people have toward you. When you believe that other people think highly of you, your level of self-acceptance and self-esteem goes straight up. However, if you believe, rightly or wrongly, that other people think poorly of you, your level of self-acceptance will plummet. One yeshiva student I was coaching told me something interesting about his own behavior. If he prayed at a very late Minyan, he would hide his Tefillin when he was walking home from Shul. But when he would pray at an early Minyan and stay late to learn after prayer, he did not even notice that he was holding his Tefillin, without hiding it, at 11 a.m. on his way back home!
The name that you make for yourself, the identity that you project to others, is going to eventually be your identity. You see, we all live up to a standard, the standard we chose for ourselves, or whatever standard others expect from us. The first step toward growth is to hold yourself to a higher standard. Make the decision, now, of the standard you want to make yours. And then, project that to the world. (1096)