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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Ninety percent approval rating is good enough

Daf Yomi Kesubos 13

The Purim Megillah concludes with the statement that Mordecai was “favourable to most of his brethren.”   What a strange way to describe the hero of the Purim story!  Here was a fellow who, together with Esther, saved the entire Jewish people from annihilation, and the Megillah tells us that most people liked him!?  Who could not have liked him after everything he did for them?

The Mishnah states: They saw a woman secluded with a man and questioned her, ‘What is the nature of your relationship?’ She responded, ‘He is Ploni Cohen.’
Chief Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Joshua say: She is believed. 
Rashi explains: She is therefore still permitted to marry a cohen.  We don’t assume she has had relations with someone improper.
But Rabbi Joshua says: We cannot live according to her word.  We assume she has cohabited with a Gibeonite or bastard unless she brings proof.

The Beraisa states: Rabbi Joshua asked them, ‘Would you not agree that if a woman was taken captive and there were witnesses to that effect, and yet she claims that she was not violated, that she is nonetheless not believed?’
They responded, ‘That is true, since most idolaters are promiscuous.’

The Gemara asks: Rabbi Joshua should distinguish between the cases.  There, in the Beraisa’s case, most of her captors would invalidate her status (as they are idolaters).   However, here in the Mishnah’s case, most Jewish men are kosher and should not invalidate her status!
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught:  The one whose words validate would validate even where most are invalid.  The one whose words invalidate would invalidate even where most are valid.

Some people use their words to validate people, while others use their words to invalidate.   Those who use their words to speak optimism and positivity are always trying to find the good in other people, so that even when there is nothing to validate them, they still find some redeeming quality.  Sadly, those who use their words to be cynical and pessimistic always find a way to be negative, even when the object of their scorn is entirely valid! 

And that’s why even Mordecai who saved our nation from annihilation was praised as being ‘favourable to most of his brethren.’   There will always be cynical people who will find something negative.  The Megillah teaches us not to sit back and do nothing so that you don’t earn your critics.  Make a change!  Save the day!  And pay no attention to the naysayers!   The greatest compliment one can receive is ‘most people find you favourable’ because the pessimists will never be happy.

Be an optimist.  Be that person who brightens up the room.  Be the one who always finds something good to say about every person and every situation, no matter how invalid it may appear.   We have one tzaddik (righteous person) in the shul whose father taught him: no matter what missteps a rabbi might take, you should always be there to support him (except of course, if criminal activity has taken place).  Our shul has had its fair share of rabbis, some good some mediocre.  And yet this mensch took his father’s advice to heart and has always found a way to back the rabbi, no matter the situation.

There are enough people in this world who are going to criticize.  Be the person who infuses the room with light!  May you merit always finding the good in every person and every situation, even when matters appear dim and people seem invalid to everyone else!

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