A friend of mine entered the rabbinate because he is not only an incredible talmid chacham (scholar), but has a wonderful way with people. Everyone loves Yossi, he knows how to always say the right thing to make you feel good, and he is always able to find solutions to any conflict, by bending over backwards to accommodate.
But he’s been feeling a little pressure lately due to a major issue in his shul.
“On the one hand, I want to be able to say yes to their demands,” he tells me. “On the other hand, deep down I don’t think it’s what the Almighty wants. What should I do?”
In order to utilize raw materials, such as branches and firewood on Yom Tov for cooking and heating purposes, one must designate them for such use prior to the holy day. Generally, when branches are in a pile, it is understood that they have been designated for use.
Rava taught “Leaves of reeds or leaves of grapevines, even if they are gathered and lying together, are prohibited for use, since the arrival of a wind might scatter them. If one places a vessel over them before Yom Tov, however, he is good to go.”
Although Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avos) instructs us to be “soft as a reed,” sometimes we must be a little tougher. Although we are meant to be just like the grapevine that King David tells us “gladdens the heart of men,” sometimes we must be more solemn.
Every interaction requires the right vessel – the right approach for the time and place. Most of the time you must avoid being stubborn and strive to bend to the will of others, cooperating and compromising in order to achieve peaceful resolutions. But some situations will call for you to place a vessel – a force-field – around you so that you are not blown away like a reed in the wind. If you always bend, then not only will people walk all over you, but you will end up lacking in principles and sound moral judgment.
Likewise, most of the time, you should aim to make others happy, as wine does. But you can’t please all the people all the time. Rabbi Israel Salanter used to say that a rabbi who pleases nobody any of the time is obviously a bad rabbi; but a rabbi who pleases all the people all the time is even worse!
If you’re not already that guy, turn over a new leaf and become as soft as a reed and as gladdening as a grapevine! People should recognize you as an individual who is never stubborn and is always out to make other people happy!
But be prepared for those occasions when you will have to cover yourself with a force-field against those who wish to take advantage of you and jeopardize your principles. When that happens, you must stand up for what’s right, and not just try to please everyone.
Ultimately, it’s the Almighty that must be pleased in every situation!