Shabbat Sermon - Shemot– Appreciate Yourself 20 Tevet 5768 - December 29, 2007 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum, PhD
Shabbat shalom. Do you sometimes feel unappreciated? How often do we hear the complaint that people don’t feel appreciated enough, or worse, they don't feel appreciated at all. Can you relate to this lack of appreciation?
There is a plain anecdote in the Talmud that best illustrates ingratitude, or ungratefulness. Our sages expound on this theme saying, "When the wicked are in trouble, they are submissive, but when their trouble is ended, they return to their wicked ways." This is exactly what happened between Joseph and Pharoh. When Pharoh needed Joseph to help save Egypt’s failing economy, Joseph and his family were shown tremendous appreciation and treated royally. Once life was going well, Pharoh seemed to develop a sense of amnesia about Joseph's contribution on behalf of the community. Gone were the "thank you" and other tokens of appreciation. The efforts of Joseph and the Jews were taken for granted.
It is basic human nature to want to feel appreciated, acknowledged and grateful for a job well done, for our efforts, our time, our talents, our skills. A simple thank you goes a long way. When was the last time you said to yourself, "I did so much for so-and-so, yet I don't feel appreciated," or "This relationship seems like a one way street. There’s no reciprocation."
Sometimes, in our personal life, we may feel unappreciated by our own family members, wives, husbands, parents, siblings, and children. Even friends and acquaintances sometimes seem to take our friendship for granted. Often we see a lack of acknowledgement in our business lives from bosses and co-workers. Sometimes it is even a fair and generous boss who is not appreciated by his or her employees. Do you know someone who has ever felt under appreciated? Is it a feeling that comes and goes or is it chronic and ongoing?
The Yiddish term to describe this sensation is Essin the kishkes, meaning eating the kishkes. Literally we upset our insides, one's intestines over not being appreciated, taken advantage of, being ignored or treated in a disrespectful manner. As Rabbi Leon of Modena, a Renaissance poet and philosopher said "A little bitterness spoils a lot of honey."
The same can be said about people who dedicate themselves to a particular organization, like a political cause or a humanitarian project. Too many give their time, their finances and their support to causes they believe are important, only to be disappointed by the lack of "thank you" and acknowledgments. Devoted employees, who often at the expense of precious family time, find that a promotion or bonus for hard work, never materializes.
It happens more often than not. The feeling of being used, unappreciated is a painful feeling which the Torah articulates in great and intriguing detail. We can look at our people, the Jewish heroes and heroines, our ancestors as case histories. Joseph and Pharaoh are a classic example of a political love relationship that didn't last. A classic example of a devoted person who was not properly rewarded, certainly unappreciated and under valued.
Egypt was an empire that suffered greatly with a bad twist of fate. The country faced tremendous famine with seven years of no food. Its economy was virtually disappearing. Then Joseph came to the rescue. As the viceroy to Pharaoh, he rose to second in command in Pharaohs cabinet of advisors. As a brilliant advisor to Pharaoh, Joseph was responsible for building the nation’s financial infrastructure. He helped millions of people feed their families through his astute and honest leadership and hard work a real Yiddishe cup!
Then Joseph died - - finished, goodbye-- and all his diligent economic efforts for the nation were conveniently forgotten by Pharaoh and his successors. Joseph, a great Egyptian leader, vanished, erased as easily as we delete data from our computer’s memory chip.
Then the tsuris started and the Jews became slaves. And the rest, as they say, is history. Even after all the good that Joseph and his family did for Pharaoh in Egypt, look what happened. Pharaoh forgot, became hardened in his heart and turned into a tyrant. We all know what happened to the Jews. Instead of Pharaoh and the Egyptians saying thank you, they became evil and reverted to their previous inhospitable attitude. Thus began a campaign to kill every male Jewish baby.
It makes no sense. This psychopathology-passive aggressive, schizophrenia, split personality, call it what you want, it was a total reversal and it was wicked. A real Dr. Jeckle/Mr. Hyde scenario.
How many times has this plot of love/hate or peace/war been repeated throughout our history? Look at world history. Here are some other examples: The famous story about Isaac Abarbanel, a great Spanish Jewish financier during the reign of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle Jews who was told either to convert or be killed. "Run for your life out of our country but don't take any money or possessions with you," he and the other Spanish Jews were told. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Jews, many extremely wealthy and talented, were expelled, homeless and impoverished overnight. In 1450, the Jews were expelled from England. Similar treatment awaited the Jews in Poland where they had lived peacefully for a thousand years. What did they do to deserve such an anti-Semitic fate?
From feeling nationalistic pride wherever they lived to suddenly – for no sensible reason, Jews were rejected, ejected and traumatized, over and over throughout history. It is no wonder our people feel they have been used and abused. Under appreciated and not valued.
So, how should we handle this in a practical matter? There is no clear and simple remedy to deal with people or groups of people that behave in selfish, irrational ways and destructive ways. Yet, we have always believed that a person, even the most vile person, has the capacity to turn himself around and change.
The best remedy is the little voice in your head that says, "Do the right thing." Therefore, sometimes it is better to expect less and lower our expectations. In this way, we can feel better about the ultimate reward. We should learn that expecting less means less disappointed. Burnout happens when our enthusiasm and energy get zapped, when we don't see the immediate appreciation or anticipated results. Our disappointment causes us to retreat. We stop helping others or we lose faith in humanity.
It is important to look at the bigger picture, the future results of maintaining our "do the right thing" attitude. This is called keeping your eye on the target. It requires wisdom, faith and patience. Perspective has its advantages. Keeping one’s perspective on the bigger world prevents the disease known as "small mindedness."
Joseph , the Tzaddik in the biblical portion, time and time again, had his eye on the future. Always looking ahead, not just living in the moment was a part of his greatness. He was a visionary, never letting the individual moment drag him down or saddle him with depression or hopelessness. He would rise to the occasion, always considering the bigger picture. Historically, he came out as a winner. We remember him as a great man, a great biblical leader and strategist. This recognition has lasted for thousands of years by people all over the world. Certainly, he is highly respected and appreciated.
Was Joseph the paragon of disappointment or was he the eternal optimist? How did Joseph handle such extreme rejection? Did he give up his values? Absolutely not! Did he disconnect himself from the community or his society? Not at all. Yet we know that he was pained by the rejection because we read that he was sobbing on his brothers necks when they were reunited. But he didn’t give in to his misery. Instead, he became a stronger and more determined leader by doing what he believed was morally right. He took the high road. He always saw himself as a winner.
And, perhaps most importantly, he maintained his integrity by living a life based on Torah values and principles. As we say in Hebrew, "Serve the Master of the Universe."
In Today's biblical Portion , Shmot, as we read about Joseph, let him serve as an example of how to live life and not fall into the trap of cynicism, apathy or bitterness. Always try to be the best person you can, serve those around you with all your heart and soul, and all your resources. Rabbi Hillel warned us in Pirkei Avot, "Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you." Hillel said that is the basis of the entire Torah. Do what you do with a full heart. If you receive the appreciation you deserve, well that is wonderful. However if you don’t, then pat yourself on the back and learn to appreciate yourself. Give yourself positive feedback and respect. Don't make decisions only because of applause or overt reward. If you expect people to always do the right thing, then you will be highly disappointed.
Be part of the community. Help your community and stay involved. Follow the paths of peace. As Shalom Rosenfeld, an Israeli journalist once wrote, "History takes revenge on those who refuse to learn from it." Let us be wise, brave and enthusiastic about our time on this earth. Let us make a wonderful difference and let us always strive to show others appreciation and spread the message of "thank you." Let us remember, that G-d, the Creator of the universe, watches all our deeds and we should pursue our daily actions for the sake of heaven.
Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk used to say that showing appreciation is a big mitzvah. The reward of a mitzvah is another mitzvah, one gift leads to another gift. So, appreciate yourself. Be your biggest fan. Stay humble because you were created by G-d to do good. If you want more appreciation, start with yourself, show others more appreciation. Shabbat shalom.