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Drash for Kayla and Natalie - How Others See Us Sermon

Sermon by Rabbi Melanie Aron

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A friend of mine who is a bit older than me, told me that the best thing about being 70, is not having to care about what anyone else thinks.

She reminded me of a poem, that was very popular for a while- in fact in a BBC poll in 1996 it was voted the most popular post war poem in England:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

Kayla and Natalie have discussed the assertion of the ten of the spies, that in the eyes of the Canaanites, the Israelites were like grasshoppers, so small and insignificant. Seeing the Canaanites as giants and themselves as tiny insects, disempowered the people. This vivid image made them frightened and afraid to continue.

Recently though I read a commentary which  raises a different issues. Was the  problem the way that the Israelites imagined the Canaanites thinking about them- or was it was that they were so tied up in what others were thinking about them in the first place?

We actually have no reason to believe that the Canaanites saw the Israelites in this way, given that we had already been told that other neighboring peoples, namely the Moabites, were in dread of them. But the real issue is not what the Israelites image was, but that it mattered to them so much.

I was raised in a time and place where girls were urged to think a lot about how others saw them, particularly young men. What would other people think, was often the reason given, for something daring or imaginative being forbidden.

Now it is true that imagining a newspaper headline or a photo on facebook with whatever it is you are contemplating doing that you aren’t sure is so kosher, is a great way of developing some self-control. Thinking about one’s reputation can be a safeguard on rash activity-we see it work even for God in this week’s Torah portion.

Our tradition praises a shem tov- a good name, a good reputation, and urges us to acquire this throughout our lives, but we can also go overboard in this regard.  A good name was acquired through moral behavior, through integrity- a yes that was yes and a no that was no. The rabbis were not encouraging us to trim our sails to win popularity points or to agree with everyone just to have them like us. Looking to see what everyone else thinks would not be a winning strategy for a group that makes up less than one tenth of one percent of the world’s population.  If we were choosing a religion by its popularity, Judaism would not be the winner.

Being overly concerned about how others see us- is to our detriment. Freedom comes only in being liberated from thinking about what others think of you.

The poem I quoted at the beginning, The Warning, written in 1961 by Jenny Joseph, a British Author, ends by suggesting that we should not wait until we are old to do the things we really want to do. She writes:

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple. 

Kayla and Natalie- you are both strong young woman, who have come to this day out of your own determination.

You have heard Caleb’s words- Ki Yachol Nuchal Lah- the original Si Si Puede or  we shall overcome. You have said that to yourselves when things were hard and not listened to voices of discouragement. May you continue to show that strength and independence, gaining support from those around you who are there to help you, but not being overly concerned about what others think.

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