April 15, 2024
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The Only Approval Worth the Effort: Achieving Healthy Teenage Pride

When speaking of the critical service of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, the holiest of days, the Torah tells us, “v’chol adam lo yi’hiyeh b’Ohel Moed b’vo’o l’chapeir b’Kodesh,” no man shall be in the Ohel Moed when he comes into the Kodesh to gain atonement. If we are deliberately told that the Kohen Gadol alone fulfills the atonement process without anyone present to observe, then there must be a lesson to be learned.

The Degel Machane Ephraim offers an insight that holds the key to an even deeper message. He explains that it would have been quite understandable and perhaps even natural for the Kohen Gadol to feel conceited when engaged in the holy service of Yom Kippur. Chosen to be the sole messenger from among countless others to earn national forgiveness from Hashem, the Kohen Gadol was surely well-respected and stood center stage for scores of people to watch with adoration, admiration and reverence. This almost inevitable mindset would be a formidable stumbling block for the Kohen Gadol at a time when humility and self-sacrifice were in order, and, therefore, Hashem designed the circumstances in a way that enabled the Kohen Gadol to maintain his focus as he stood alone, lacking distraction in the Ohel Moed. With no thought of seeking honor or winning attention to gain public approbation, the Kohen Gadol would be left to fulfill his sacred mission unimpeded by the natural human drive for recognition.

If the need to counter the drive for recognition and approval on the part of the holiest man in the nation on the holiest day of the year was the basis for eliminating a public viewing of what would undoubtedly be an awe-inspiring service on Yom Kippur, then it is something for us to reflect upon, as well. In addressing this issue, we can perhaps break down the topic into three parts—the truth about approval, how people, particularly teenagers, seek unsubstantiated and fruitless approval, and how we can assist these young adults to achieve a healthy sense of pride that would eliminate much, if not all of, the effort invested and associated with this drive.

The Truth About Approval

Although it is clearly not confined to teenagers, people find themselves self-conscious and overly concerned with the image they feel others have of them. Left unaddressed, this crippling concern follows us throughout our lives. Without intrinsic self-pride in one’s strengths and honest self-awareness of one’s weaknesses, a person will forever worry about what others think of him and exaggerate the significance of these thoughts. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin writes, “A large part of the concern for the approval of others is based on illusion. In truth, others do not think about you as much as you think they do. Even if they are thinking about you, much of what they think makes absolutely no practical difference in your life. The illusion that there are no other people around will enable you to free yourself from the harm and pain caused by that other illusion.” The Kohen Gadol focused on his task by physically removing himself from those around him. If we would be able to remove ourselves from the illusions that surround us, we would be able to focus on our particular task and mission without being sidetracked by worry and concern for approval and acceptance.

Seeking Approval in Modern Times

Today, we find these illusions in frightening abundance. Without delving into the advantages and disadvantages of modern technology, a plethora of studies have been conducted concerning the cause and effect of social media. The undeniable fact that emerges is the insatiable drive for being connected, but far more so, for being deemed desirable in the eyes of others. Whether this is measured in the amount one is “followed,” “liked,” “shared” or retweeted, social media has created an unmitigated disaster for our youth, a fact that many have failed to recognize. In addition to the exposure parents may be unaware of and would object to, should they be shown the extent of the content made available to their children, social media fosters their dependency on non-intrinsic acceptance and their need to develop a false sense of self-pride.

Achieving Healthy Teenage Pride

In a letter written in 1906, the great American writer, Mark Twain, admits, “I can live on a good compliment two weeks with nothing else to eat.” However, as Twain perhaps intentionally implied, compliments are limited in their impact. Likes and followers are similarly limited. We cannot live on any of them indefinitely, nor is it wise or healthy to live on them at all. Personal pride must come from within.

“If parents want to give their children a gift,” explains Carol Dweck, author of the powerful book “Mindset,” “the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves to praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” While this certainly does not mean one should refrain from offering compliments, Dr. Dweck advises that we gear compliments toward effort and growth. It is interesting to note that most, if not all, of the external approval earned on social media has nothing to do with either effort or growth.

The Kohen Gadol was not chosen for his good looks, melodic voice, charismatic smile or sharp wit. He was chosen for the effort he extended in working toward and achieving his potential. As Moshe comforted Aharon, “It is for this reason you were chosen.” With an eye and focus on serving Hashem rather than public approval, the Kohen Gadol fulfilled his God-given mission.

We are taught, “Hatznei’a lechet im Elokecha,” walk secretly with your God. Our actions and deeds in this world are between us and Hashem exclusively. Utilizing the tools which Hashem granted us, we persevere through challenges to become better and more refined individuals, regardless of fanfare and recognition. We must take pride in our personal and religious growth, and inculcate the same drive within our children. Indeed, everything else is an illusion. If we achieve this understanding and integrate it in every aspect of our lives, we would not be dependent upon the approval of others.

We need only the approval of Hashem. The Kohen Gadol may have entered the holiest place on earth on the holiest day of the year with this notion, but we can enter our every moment of life the same way.

We must live with this mentality not only for our own well-being, but for the sake of our children. By modeling intrinsic pride in growth and effort rather than seeking approval from others, we demonstrate that our self-worth cannot be swayed by public opinion. We have intrinsic value that is God-given, and it is He Whom we serve. That approval alone is something to “like.”

By Rabbi Avi Bernstein, RYNJ Middle School Dean of Students

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