In the made-up stories of knightly quests, when men slew dragons, there was a custom whereby the knights would cut off the tip of the tail of each conquest and nail it somewhere, proclaiming, “X amount of dragons have I slain.” Or put a notch in the belt to show off.
There is danger in much of what we do in life of thinking we ought to be like those dragon-slayers, tallying up our victories. There are a few problems with this approach. The first is that we are then saying we only have value based on public events. Which is not true. To quote the poet Thomas Grey, “full many a flower was born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Do you think only flowers that make it to your attention are beautiful? No, there are millions of others scattered in remote locations even more dazzlingly beautiful. Notice is not what makes the person.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Attention has ramifications, even in physics and even in Halacha [Jewish law]. In physics, in nuttiness hard to explain, particles will act differently when observed. You heard that right – -little atom parts act up to get attention it seems. Light particles will travel differently when you put your gaze upon it. In Halachic thought, sins are weighed differently when they are “b’farhesya” – in public. You have a concept of “maris ayin” of not doing things that others might interpret the wrong way. And you have the concept of certain sins becoming “yai’harayg v’al ya’avar” based on the publicity surrounding the challenge. So it seems that notice does have impact…but it only has impact on making Halachic decisions. Notice, publicity, attention has no bearing on who YOU ARE to G-d. You have intrinsic value, you have delicious appeal, even if no one ever gets to know you and sees your feats. We are told that Chanoch was delicious to G-d for he “walked with G-d.” It wasn’t about the whole world noticing him, it was about his connecting to the Creator.
Much of the dysfunction of our generation often stems from folks having no concept of their own self-worth unless there is notice attached to them. A long while ago I wrote for a newspaper and thought of this great “scoop”. Do you ever see those advertisements that call out, “Do you want to be a model/actor/etc.”? Almost every American teen wants to, for we are raised to think only those who are noticed are worth anything. I made my rounds to the agencies advertising to uncover the scam that they are – for most of them exist to take money from the thousands of hopefuls who come flocking to their doors. I would walk in and they would say, “oh, yes, you can definitely model.” Uh-huh, with my crooked teeth I didn’t fix, right – was my sarcastic thoughts. And then they would spring the kicker, “You know you need a portfolio to get the modeling jobs. We will have a famous makeup artist do your face – at a discount – only XXX dollars as a special for you,” (mind you, this was hundreds of dollars they were charging) “and we will have a photographer who did shoots for [insert name of fashion magazine here] take pictures of you for XXX dollars…” After their whole shpiel, the wanna-be actress/model/singer would be facing a bill of a few hundred or few thousand dollars. These agencies exist to capitalize on the quest for notice that our generation chases. There are even sleazier agencies out there, which I won’t get into too much detail about – but in short, instead of money they take other “services” as payment for photos and portfolios.
My father would tell us time and time again, “If you want to be a somebody, you are a nobody!” If you are confident you have value, you don’t care if the world knows your name. There is a story of one of the students of Rebbe, a man named Shmuel HaKattan. Rebbe was always bothered that Shmuel did not end up becoming “Rav Shmuel”. The danger of those times kept kyboshing every attempt Rebbe made to confer Semicha [rabbinical ordination] upon his most brilliant student. And Shmuel HaKatan reassured his teacher that he was quite content with the role G-d gave him – that in the scheme of G-d’s world he was meant to be just that: HaKatan, the man without Semicha. Shmuel HaKatan was aware G-d loved him, whether or not his name was emblazoned and noticed.
I had a teacher, Rebbetzin Goldwurm (Z”L), who seemed to be the “plain teacher”. Never offered the title Principal in the many schools in town, not even given the glorious “mechaneches” title, she was probably the most responsible of all the teaching staff, caring for students in ways that went beyond classroom walls. Up in heaven, the title principal doesn’t mean a thing. The one who gets the credit for being in the home of the orphaned student, the one who gets the credit for finding students shidduchim, the one who really cared and might get credit for being an “aym b’yisroel” a real nurturer of Jews is the quiet Rebbetzin Goldwurm. She kept her motto on her fridge. It read, “It is nice to be important, but more important to be nice!”
What you do, ought to be for G-d, not for the headlines. Who you are is summed up by Heavenly measures, not by publicity. Isn’t that the concept of the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim upholding the world? There are 36 righteous people who do things right, without any fanfare, without any notice of others. It is in their merit that the world exists…and not in the merit of those tooting their horns.
 The concept of this is that there are three “cardinal” sins. Most times, as instructed by this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us “vechay bahem” you shall live with the Torah, which means that with threat to life, a prohibition gets suspension. That is why Hatzala can rescue people on Shabbos. That is why during a plague, the rav of the community made Kiddush in shul on Yom Kippur and ate in front of the congregants and made them also break their fast. And also, hence, if a sadist walks up to a Jew and says, “eat this pork or I kill you” the Jew may go ahead and partake of the pork. There are three sins, however, where this does not apply. I may never indulge in idol worship, never in perverted sexual practices and never commit murder [Avodah Zarah, Giluy Arayos and Shefichas Damim]. However, we find instances of our great martyrs where they were killed for lesser offenses…and the reason why is that once something is put to you in a public challenge, the parameters change. Therefore, if in front of all your co-congregants, a sadist were to ask you to break a Jewish law as a means of showing the irrelevance of that law and of G-d’s rule and he threatens to kill you if you don’t do so, because it is a challenge in public you must NOT do that sin.
 Incidentally, that “scoop” that I thought would be the best of my articles ended up dead on arrival, for before I had a chance to finish it and publish it, one of the “agency” owners was shot dead (the night after I visited that agency) by a boyfriend of one of the wanna-be models (and for good reason). The place where I was writing for was a weekly publication, which meant that I missed the boat. You see, when the murder happened, all the dailies quickly put together such an article as I was writing to run with the news of the murder of that sleaze. My article a week later would be lame. And that was the end of my “best of articles” idea.