Are you a snob? Before you answer, ask yourself what is a snob?

 A snob is someone that takes a small part of who you are and then draws an entire picture of you based on this modicum of information. Let’s give an example to clarify this point – when you meet someone for the first time, what is a question that is practically guaranteed to be asked during that initial conversation?

The answer – “What do you do for a living?”

Now depending on how you answer this question, one of two things is likely to happen. Either the individual you are talking to will have all the time in the world to talk to you or he will be looking at his watch making excuses for why he has to leave.

Why is this so? Why do we take one aspect of a person, namely what he does for a living, and immediately generate an overall conception of who he is?

The reason can be illuminating to the type of society we live in.

Let us ask another question – Do you believe that our culture is meritocratic?

Let us define what this means.

Meritocracy is the ideology that one’s achievements are based on his merits. It could be his intelligence, creativeness, or ingenuity. If one opened a business and he chose the merchandise to sell, he arranged and displayed it just right; he stayed from morning until night making sales, if the business is successful, is it in his merit?

Now many, when faced with this question would immediately jump and say “Absolutely!”

But wait a minute, if we say that this is the case, we then need to look at the other end of the spectrum as well. If this same person opened a business and he chose the merchandise to sell, he arranged and displayed it just right; he stayed from morning until night making sales, if the business was a failure, is that also in his merit?

In order to believe in the meritocratic way, one must say that the end result yielded is based on one’s efforts alone.

But is this true?

Conventional understanding of success and failure has changed drastically from what it once was. Swiss philosopher and writer Alain de Botton asks us to consider this point. When visiting a book store, if we survey the self help section we will find that each book falls into one of two categories. Either the book’s objective is to tell you that you can do it! It is within your grasp to accomplish whatever it is that you want to do! Or there are books that have been written to make you feel better about those things which you have not been able to accomplish or where you feel unfulfilled in certain endeavors. The common denominator in both these categories is the person and his efforts alone.

The fact that society mainly relies on one’s efforts alone can easily be seen through how people used to refer to a poor person and how a poor person is referred to today. It was once common to refer to a poor person as one who is “unfortunate”. Namely that fortune, something which is outside the sphere of the person himself, has not shined on him. Today someone who is poor may be regarded as a “loser” or a “deadbeat”, which places the liability of a person’s financial situation solely on the person.

This mode of thinking can lead us to fully remove any external variable from our equation of life. We end up worshiping what we do, what we make, and what we accomplish. It becomes about us alone without any feeling to the fact that many times in life it is not our hands that creates the end result. Many times there is a factor present that is beyond the logical, rational, or computable.

For us as Jews, this factor is one that is ever present in our lives, one that we relate to daily and one that we praise and thank – it is Hashem.

Yet, we live in a world that may not always share this sentiment, a place which praises the self and nothing more. This means that inculcating the truism of religiosity into our hearts can be a daunting task.

It is for this reason that a verse in this week’s perasha stands out. The Torah states, “The Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an eternal covenant for their generations” (31:16).

The question regarding the Shabbat is what are we suppose to be celebrating and commemorating on this day? What thoughts should we be contemplating during this weekly stopping point within our lives?

The answer is conveyed in the very next verse which states, “Between Me and the Children of Israel, the Shabbat, is a sign that in a six day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested” (31:17).

The contemplation one should have is that Hashem created the world. One should know that this world is a place where we are visiting. It is a place that we do not own, but that has been given to us on loan, for life, with a grand opportunity to serve our Creator.

Keeping this thought in mind and having the right mindset about what Shabbat means is there as a preemptive measure to ensure that our lives are not egocentric in nature. It is to help us formulate a proper outlook for our own successes and failures and towards those around us. The principle to always remember is that we are both the directors of our fate, while simultaneously having our fate directed by Hashem up above. 

Rabbi Anchelle Perl 516-739-3636

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