June 18, 2024
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It’s All About the Attitude!

The first week of camp is upon us, and for me it conjures up old memories of my first summer in sleepaway camp. I was scared before I left, and was very homesick during my stay. I knew that it was going to be difficult for me. I was a homebody, who rarely slept away, and the thought of being away from my parents for a month was frightening. When I cried the day before I left, my mother, z”l, comforted me, insisting that being away would give me the opportunity to make new friends and experience the cool country air as opposed to the muggy, steamy city. I remember telling my mother that I didn’t want to go, but she persuaded me that if I had a positive attitude and made a real effort to enjoy myself, I would have a great time.

My mom insisted that even if there were things that I didn’t like about camp, I should focus on the things that I did like, and that I would see that the rest of the experience would grow on me.

I remembered my mother’s words as I quietly cried myself to sleep the first night of camp. I tried and tried—“think positive,” I heard my mother’s voice echoing in my mind. If it was only that easy! Sleepaway camp isn’t for everyone, and it wasn’t for me in the end. Looking back, though, I do remember the valuable lesson that my mother instilled within me. Our attitude toward anything in life generally has a great impact on how we experience any given event or situation.

When Moshe sent the spies to appraise the land of Israel at the behest of the Jewish people, he gave them specific directions as to where they should travel and what they should see. Among the instructions was a charge to observe the land and evaluate as to whether it was good or bad: “hatova hee eem ra’ah.” The Chiddushei Harim, zt”l, explains that Moshe’s directive contained within it a lesson that would apply not only to the meraglim, but to all of us for generations to come. The spies were told by Moshe that even if their first impression of the land itself was negative, they should be patient in drawing any conclusions. Moshe reasoned that if the spies were looking for something good about the land, they would surely find it. This lesson is true of many things in life and is not only limited to our experiences. It is also true of our relationships and interactions with others.

As people, we tend to measure and judge others as soon as we see them. We size them up in our minds, and determine if they pose a threat to us in any way almost instantly. If they do, we try to avoid engaging them, and if they do not, we might introduce ourselves and commence a conversation. As we hear a person speak, we hopefully become more comfortable in exposing ourselves in conversation, as we get to know the person with whom we are engaged. Some of us tend to be very judgmental, and draw conclusions about people based on their appearance or disposition. This conclusion is not based on our safety but on our own internal biases and exposure in previous engagements. Once we have made a determination, it may be difficult to change. Moshe’s instruction to the meraglim can serve as a tool for us to be patient in judgment, and cautiously allow ourselves to learn about the other person before labeling them in our mind as good or bad. The Chidushei Harim encourages us to take this lesson one step further. Even if our initial assessment is negative, we are urged to search for the good within the person, so that we can look at them in a positive light. With some people this is a difficult task.

Unfortunately, the impatience of the meraglim in this effort resulted in the demise of their generation, which still has consequences to this day. This lesson is also true when it comes to marriage. At times we tend to look for what is missing in our spouses as opposed to all of the positive traits that are within them. If we seek the positive, in most cases we will find that the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to people. This is particularly true when couples are experiencing difficulties in their relationship. I often ask couples to tell me about the good character traits they saw in each other that initially brought them together. This reminds them about the positive way at which they once looked at each other. When our minds are focused on negativity, it results in a domino effect, and before long there is nothing positive that we allow ourselves to focus on. This lesson is not easy. If it was, I probably would have enjoyed camp more than I did. Yet, as we grow and experience life, we are afforded the opportunity to look back and reformulate our attitude now based on the lessons of the past. The story of the meraglim remains a powerful lesson for our time.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, NJ, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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