Peer Pressure: no match for a brick wall outlook

 “Our epidermis has become too sensitive.  I wish that we Jews had a consciousness of our own value which would make us quiet and half-indifferent to the judgment of others rather than this unwavering, easily insulted, hypersensitive point d’honneur which is a product of assimilation.” – Joseph Breuer[1]

 “If I am I because you are you, then I am not I and you are not you.  But if I am I because I am I and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you.”  – The Kotzker Rebbe

 Many people get caught into a trap of looking over their shoulders, searching for approval from those around them.  Butterfly clips came in, and you were out if you didn’t have one fluttering in your hair.  Then came headbands, and poufs and beach waves.  Baggy jeans were declared cool, and out were those who kept on their regular pants.  Then came skinny jeans, cutoffs and khakis.   It happens on a national level, of Jews trying to be as in with the non-Jews as possible.  And it happens on a personal level, with each of us trying to fit into whatever trend is going on.  Trying to fit in with everyone else is what ruins our chance of finding ourselves.

My mother laughs at the American problem, as she sees it. She says, “People wear skirts proclaiming Tommy Hilfiger.  Another name, Gap, is spelled out across their shirts.  Their bag has to have a metal plate signed Coach.  They sleep in Ralph Lauren signature sheets.  Then they ask, “Who am I?  They’re nothing but a free billboard for a lot of different designers.”

Rav Amnon Yitzchok, Shlita says we have a choice, “Shcheina – our neighbor or Schina –  G-d’s presence.”  Is your neighbor or classmate really great enough to dictate how you live your life?  Are you marching in life to someone else’s drumbeat?

Peer pressure is not always subtle.  It’s not always you trying to fit in.  It sometimes is behavior and dress codes being rammed down your throat by the “in”crowd through taunts and name calling.  Or, even in some community, by violence and coercion.

If someone walks up to you and says, “I think the scar across your face is ugly” and you have no scar, you would think the person is crazy and you wouldn’t get insulted.  Don’t allow people to convince you of any faults that are not there or to tell you are less than cool and hip for the choices you do or don’t make.

If you do change based on such comments, who’s in control– you?  Or your friend’s opinions?

In Bava Metzia, the example of coins in a bottle is used to illustrate human nature. A lone coin in a bottle rattles.  The bottle filled with coins, however, makes no sound.  Usually those who taunt you and claim to be so great and in, are not filled with much inside of them.  That is why they have to rattle and make such a big sound.  Were they filled with depth and meaning inside, they would not have an overpowering urge to be noticed.

Rav Gedaliah Schorr, ZT”L urged his students to have the will, as stated in Shir HaShirim, like a brick wall.  “Ani Choma” “You can’t budge me.  I am a brick wall.  Bash your wills against me, I don’t budge!”  Don’t budge when you know you’re right.

Struggle against trends — it shows you’re alive.  A lecturer once described the journey of fish upstream.  You know a fish is dead when it flows along with every single current — when it no longer fights AGAINST the current.  If you are bucking the in thing, you have a struggle on your hands.   But you have to love your struggle, because it means your spirit is way alive!


[1]Joseph Breuer was an Austrian physician whom Freud credited as being the “originator of psychoanalysis.”

For more information about the Kotzker Rebbe, you can read here:

For more information about Rav Gedalya Schorr you can read this:

And, my friend, definitely check out this site and go to English videos to hear for youself Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak speaking.


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Plugged In — Staying Fully Charged

(Repost… due to Elul’s potential for us to realize we need to recharge…)

Many have experienced this thanks to Storm Sandy – that moment when your computer runs out of backup juice.

Tonight, as I began typing on my computer a pop-up blared to me that I was low on power.  I put my cord into the power strip and thought all was good.  But, just a few moments later, my computer went black.  I  looked down and noticed I hadn’t plugged in the power strip.  I wasn’t connected to any electrical source.

In today’s technology age, we can turn to our electronic devices for some lessons.  So long as we are plugged in to electrical power, we are “on”.  When we end up disconnected, though we might have “power” for a short while, eventually we run out of juice and end up shutting down. Have those days?  I do – when you just feel so distant, so down and dark, so disconnected.  When I feel that way, it usually is because I’ve allowed my juices to run low without recharging my spirituality. On down days, try to find a way to plug yourself in.

My uncle learned in pretty solid Yeshivot when younger.  He “disconnected” a long while ago due to bitterness.  When talking to him, what amazes me is how much of a Torah ignoramus he is – despite his solid education.   He asks questions that even a cheder boy  can answer, and misquotes far and wide both scripture and laws.   Where did all his past learning go?  You see, even knowledge does not last once “disconnected”.  Eventually it fades. Inspiration is the same way.  It can burn bright within us and then slow die away as we disconnect from that source of inspiration.

In fact, we are told that when we learn, we should be “mechapes” we should search and find something we can take practically from the lesson and implement it right away.  For lessons, learning and inspiration will die away unless we figure out how to stretch it into live, turned-on practice.  We have to “plug in” our souls at all times.

May each of us merit to figure out how to stay “plugged in” with learning and with doing mitzvot and ultimately to G-d.

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Parshas Shoftim – even sinners’ dignities must be protected

Twice in this week’s Torah portion, we see a sensitivity to the feelings of folks.  The first happens when we are taught to set aside the “Aray Miklat” designated cities where an accidental murderer finds safe refuge.

Torah demands accountability and responsibility.  There is no such concept of “oops, I didn’t mean to do that…”  If a person does an action that kills a person…even accidentally (the example given is he is chopping wood and the top of his axe disconnects and flies off and hits someone and kills someone)…then the accidental murderer is not let off with no repercussions.   Human life is too precious to allow for negligence and carelessness.  Therefore, the accidental murderer is not allowed to continue to reside in general society.  He or she must find refuge in specially-designated cities.

And here is where something fascinating comes in.  We, as a nation, are commanded to make sure that the cities are easily accessible.  That there be signage that is clear, put in place in noticeable locales, so that the person who is fleeing doesn’t have to stop to ask directions of anyone.  As King David in Tehillim writes, G-d is so kind, He makes sure to  “al kayn yoreh chata’im ba’derech” to point the way even for those who mess up.  If the signs wouldn’t be there, the poor killer would have to ask directions — and those of whom he asked directions would know his sin.  To spare him that further embarrassment, we put up clear signage.

The second place in this week’s Parsha where we see this sensitivity is right before a battle.  The Jews had an army.   Before every battle, they were given a pep rally by the Kohayn, who kept them focused on spirituality and G-dliness.  A person going into battle for us had to be a person who had no sins.  There would be an announcement made that anyone who put in effort in a project and didn’t get to enjoy the fruits yet, could leave and not be part of the battle.  (This concept is another fascinating one, but that is for another day and discussion — the concept of putting in effort and being encouraged to enjoy those first flush of excitement and success).  The other folks who could be excused from the army are those who are scared.  All folks who get a deferment from army service get that deferment together — so when a gaggle of folks leave the ranks and head away no one knows who are the sinners, who are the newly-weds and who are the ones who just planted a vineyard.  No one can point to any one person who is leaving the battlefield as the one who is scared his sins will do him in.

If that is the level of sensitivity the Torah demands for the dignity of sinners, it would behoove us all to register how very important protecting mankind’s dignity is to our value system!

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Only G-d is Yashar — being proud of Torah and Mitzvos

In this week’s Torah portion, [verse 19] the chapter concludes that we need to listen to G-d and “ha’yashar b’aynay Hashem…” what is fair in the eyes of G-d we must do. Man is silly – we think we are smarter and more fair than G-d. How could the Torah have various punishments? Or other limited human thoughts.   History and life events can show us again and again that only G-d is fair. What we think is “cruel” might be kinder than our kindness.

Let me give you one example based also on this week’s Parsha: the justice system. A person steals in Judaism when we had our own courts and ways of enforcing things, we took that guy who couldn’t keep his hands off of others possessions and we sell him into slavery, use the money of the sale to repay what the guy stole and the guy is a slave for six years. Sounds cruel, no?

However, the Torah teaches that the master who buys him has to teach the guy a trade and when the guy is set free, the master has to set him up in business. So you take a no-good bum who is stealing and make him live with a normal family and make him function and work and then turn him into a decent citizen.

Contrast that with our system – we take a guy who stole, put him in Rikers with murderers and rapists, hold him there for a few years, then let him go with a one-trip Metrocard and money for one day of food. Have you done good by that man? Most folks end up quite quickly back in jail. They haven’t been taught or given ways of living a normal life.

Any time we see G-d told us to do something, we know G-d is merciful and that He is more fair than our limited logic can ever make us.

No matter what philosophy or morality is au courant, no matter how many people say how outdated or barbaric is Torah and Halacha, know without a doubt time and life will prove time and time again that only G-d is all-merciful and all-just.  You don’t have to make excuses for His laws.

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Daiyah (wants to nix the good works)

[In some previous posts I introduced you to the Raiyah and the Aiyah and the Chasidah.  Here is another ornery bird to meet.]

Negative character traits can be found in another bird unkosher.

That the world has maxed out on good deeds she is so sure

Any time there is a call to do good, to take up a cause and give

She caws ‘why can’t all you do-gooders just finally let us live.

“Daiy, enough,” she cries, “haven’t we done more than our share

“Stop talking about doing good, too much asking is no fair.”

Always cawing, always complaining, after every Tzedaka solicitation

“Daiy,” she caws, “daiy,” she cries, recruiting others to non-participation

Because she stops others from going ahead and getting good work done

This ornery bird, the Daiy’ah, joins the list of food that we shun.

[What is most interesting is that the Daiy’ah has the option of just not joining in the good work.  However, she doesn’t want to be the only one not so good, so she tries to convince others not to get involved.  And that is completely unexcusable.]

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Aiyah, insincere lie’ya

[This is a continuation of previous posts where we had discussed that there are a few birds that seem kosher, but are deemed unkosher because of their flawed character traits.]

Of birds not kosher because of character flaws there are a few

And the Aiyah is one because she makes commitments untrue

When a need is brought up she cheeps of how she’ll help out

But when it comes time to do things she won’t be found about

That is why she is called Aiyah, which means ‘where is she’

The bird who gives offers of assistance insincerely

And though you believe the promises of help given by the Aiyah

You find out when it comes to deliver she is quite the lie’ah

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Raiyah – Little Miss Negativity

Perched on a branch in Babylon

Sits a bird with her sight right-on

From miles away she can see

Myriad types of misery

She looks out for rot and decay

Finding negatives makes her day

Which is why on a Jewish menu she won’t be

Never Kosher is the trait of Negativity.

[This is a continuation of a previous post, where I explained that a few birds have kosher simanin/signs but are considered non-kosher because of their warped personalities.  The Ra’aya, from the root word of see, is a bird that has extremely long-distance keen sight, which could be a gift.  However, this bird looks for dying things with her sight, focusing on the negative aspects of the world, which is why Jews will not eat this bird.]

For a discussion on what the signs of a kosher bird are, you can read this article:

or go to this great handout for a more in=depth outline of kosher guidelines in animals:

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