Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Put Yourself on a Pedestal

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Operation Inspiration

 

While this might sound counter-intuitive and downright egotistical, there are actually advantages to following my advice. Of course, you need to know how to implement it. Imagining yourself to be better than everyone else can be quite harmful. And, since arrogance is an attribute that Hashem can’t tolerate, it can lead you down the road to ruin.

So, what makes me think this is good advice? Well, like R’ Akiva watching the water drip on the stone, Sir Isaac Newton seeing the apple fall, or George de Mestral noticing the burrs stuck to his pants in the Jura mountains (he later invented Velcro), the inspiration for this idea came from my own experience.

We all know that paper towels can absorb a spill in milliseconds. Capillary action helps liquids travel through their fibers so that even if only a small area touches the spill, the whole roll can get saturated pretty quickly. Well, one day I was moving something in our sink and I accidentally sloshed some water on the counter. My mind raced as the spill spread towards the roll of paper towels nearby.

I quickly picked up the roll, tore off a sheet and wiped the spill so the water couldn’t spread. I then looked at the paper towel roll which had been standing in the middle of the spill and realized that the paper wasn’t wet! It struck me that the paper towel roll hadn’t been directly on the counter. Rather, the metal holder used to keep it upright had a base which gave the paper some clearance from the wet surface.

I realized that the pedestal prevented them from being damaged, and that’s when I developed this theory. The pedestal I propose isn’t one of superiority over others, at least, not initially. Rather, it’s one of superiority over circumstances that might otherwise cause us to become upset, hurt, or damaged. If we can keep even a small distance between ourselves and the things that accost us, we may be able to keep ourselves from falling apart.

If we recognize that certain situations don’t deserve our frantic attention, or our indignance, or our rage, then we can protect ourselves and remain intact. If we are thrown by every thing that goes differently than we planned it, we won’t have much of a life. If every thoughtless or even nasty comment sends us into a tailspin, then we’re going to suffer the brunt of the destruction.

Instead, I suggest putting ourselves on a pedestal, like my paper towels on their holder. When potentially harmful things come our way, if we can tell ourselves, “That’s beneath me,” then we can hold it together and remain useful members of society.

I mentioned feeling superior to others. Before you think I’m way off base, consider this: the Ramban, in his famous letter to his son, told him that he should view others as greater than him. If they are wiser or wealthier, he must honor them. And if he is wiser than they are? Then he should think about the fact that if they sin it is by mistake, while for him it is intentional.

He suggests recognizing when others are beneath you, or at least telling yourself they are, so that you can behave better. That’s what I’m saying. If someone yells at you, says nasty comments, or something similar, tell yourself that they are a smaller person than you, not as emotionally developed, and they don’t even realize how bad what they’re saying really is. At that point, you can give them a pass, and stave off your hurt and anger.

When it comes to sins, of course, you should be telling yourself you’re better than them as well. Who speaks about other people? People of low intelligence. Not someone as smart and understanding as you. Who succumbs to temptation? People who can’t see the snare of the Yetzer Hara thrown at their feet, waiting for them to step into it.

That’s when the pedestal comes into play. It helps you rise above the fray, step gingerly away from the danger, and make sure it doesn’t affect you. By imagining yourself like the paper towels – easily harmed but given added vertical protection – you can begin to avoid the situations that could tear you apart and leave you regretting your actions.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and it will certainly take practice. However, if you can try to remember my example, you may be able to save yourself and others from pain and suffering in the long run. It’s not just the paper towels that need a structure to lean on. We can all benefit from remaining upright and not letting every little thing get to us.

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