| Parshah |

Warped Reflection

Someone with self-respect cannot be enslaved


“Now it came to pass… that the king of Mitzrayim died, and Bnei Yisrael sighed from the labor.” (Shemos 2:23)


he Or HaChaim explains that as long as there was someone from the generation of Yosef who was still alive, the Mitzrim respected Bnei Yisrael and couldn’t enslave them. This was because anyone in Bnei Yisrael who was connected to Yosef and his generation respected themselves, and someone with self-respect cannot be enslaved.

This lesson can be applied to the yetzer hara’s war inside us as well. Many aveiros are intertwined with shame. The yetzer hara tries to lower the way a person perceives himself, so he can then ensnare him in aveiros. A person with self-worth refrains from sinning because he doesn’t want to shame himself. (Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, Sichos Mussar)

Students come, students go. Some stay in touch, others never look back. But I never forget them. I may misplace the names, but their faces, their personalities, their ups and downs are all embedded within me.

Sori was one who disappeared. I don’t know where she is today, but I still think of her. I still see her face as I saw it that last day before she left our school right after Chanukah.

The Gemara in Yoma (47:1) tells us that Kimchis had seven sons and each was a Kohein Gadol. Why did Kimchis deserve this? She testified that the walls of her house never saw her hair. Rashi in the Yerushalmi brings the pasuk in Tehillim (45:14): “All the honor of a princess is within.”

A woman who acts like a princess, merits a Kohein Gadol who wears the mishbetzet of gold. While Kimchis was allowed to show her hair in her house, she had an extra measure of self-respect and didn’t want to do that.

Similarly, we see that Yosef (Bereishis 39:8) refused to sin with eishes Potifar because he respected where he came from — from Yaakov’s household.

Sori was a fighter. She fought with her teachers, she fought with her parents, her friends, her siblings. She so desperately needed to maintain ground, to prove somehow that she had power, that she had control over her life.

We tried. Every one of her teachers, every member of the administration, every classmate who cared, we all tried. We tried to show Sori her self-worth, to defuse the rage that consumed her, to reason, to rationalize, to reach out. But Sori refused to retreat. Until one day she went one step too far. None of us had wanted this to happen, but it became clear that we’d need to ask Sori to switch schools.

Respect and worthlessness can’t reside in the same place. How does one achieve self-worth? A person was created single to teach us that every soul in Yisrael is worth the whole world. We are therefore obligated to say, “The whole world was created for me.”

The Gemara in Sotah (3:1) explains that a person doesn’t sin unless a spirit of foolishness enters him. And this foolishness lies in not recognizing your value and the worth of each action you do. If someone destroys his own soul, it’s as if he destroyed the whole world. If we truly understood our value, we would stay away from any place that has the potential to cause us to sin; we’d understand we are above frequenting those places.

I walked with her to the school door on that last winter afternoon. My heart hurt. Sori’s fight was gone. She no longer had that intense need to break rules, thwart authority, and challenge every principle. Instead her eyes were empty. We spoke for a few minutes. I asked about her plans and urged her to keep in touch.

As we walked through the empty lobby, we passed by the wall mirror and I turned to give her one last hug. Standing side by side, I looked at our reflections. A feeling of failure washed over me.

I turned to her. “What do you see, Sori, when you look at yourself?”

“Nothing. There’s nobody there.”

And I knew why we’d failed. I couldn’t sketch a reflection of self-respect where Sori saw a vacuum, couldn’t paint her future if she couldn’t see her present. I so hoped that in a new place, surrounded by new people, she would succeed. Perhaps then she would look into the mirror and see what I saw — the reflection of her shining soul.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 676)

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Tagged: Parsha