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Thursday, 7 August 2014

034) The Great Kotzker Contradiction - Either it Matters What Other People Think or it Doesn't

I have set myself the goal of trying to read every single Kotzker teaching I can get my hands on. In the process I have often comes across some interesting ideas and concepts. Here is one of them:

In one place the Kotzker says:
“And Leah’s eyes were weak…” Rashi explains that Leah cried a lot. She cried because people said that since Isaac had an older son (Esau), and a younger son (Jacob) - and since Lavan also had an older daughter (Leah), and a younger daughter (Rachel) - the older son could marry the older daughter, and the younger son could marry the younger daughter. This meant that Leah might end up marrying Esau, hence Leah’s tears.
The Kotzker is a little bothered by this explanation of Rashi, and asks:
Who were these people who were making these suggestions and talking like this? It was only Lavan and his wicked family. No one else. So why should Leah have been bothered by all this talk? - From here we learn that we should always be conscious and aware of what people say!    
(Amud HaEmet p26, par3)

In another place he appears to contradict this viewpoint:
When the spies returned from spying out the land of Israel, they said that the people living there were so big that they resembled giants, and that they [the spies] felt like little grasshoppers in comparison. The spies continued to report; “And so we appeared in their eyes.”
The Kotzker makes this observation:
It’s one thing to report how you yourself feel about a given situation. It’s another to extrapolate about the feelings others are experiencing in that same situation. One never really knows how another feels. Besides, it doesn't matter what other people think about you.   
(Kochav HaShachar p21, par 4)

So from two different books, we are presented with an apparent contradiction. Where does he stand on the issue of how seriously we should take what others think of us? Either it matters what others think, or it doesn’t. Did the Kotzker contradict himself?

I think there could be two answers:

On the one hand, let’s say he did contradict himself. That’s all the more reason why I would choose him as a teacher. It shows just how human he was. Perhaps when he was younger he didn't care what people thought of him. And perhaps with time he mellowed and took a different view. Or perhaps he started out worrying about how he was perceived by others, only to later on in life realize that life is there to be lived fully by the individual himself, with scant regard for those who opposed him.

On the other hand, let’s say there is no contradiction. We cannot live our lives constantly worrying about how everyone else is going to interpret our actions. If we do, we will never say or accomplish anything significant, for fear that someone might be offended. At the same time, one cannot just barge through life without caring about other the billions of other people we have to share this planet with. Victory has a bitter taste to it if it creates too many enemies.   

The solution lies somewhere in the delicate middle. We need to do what we need to do without allowing others to get in the way. But we don't need to get in the way of others either.


The art of living is to know when to be concerned about what others think, and when the time has come to push on regardless. 

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