“I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I do what I know is right!”
Ever come across someone with this attitude? Have any friends or relatives like that? Strong minded. Not easily swayed by trends and fads. A person of principle.
While such people are usually not exactly the warm and fuzzy types, making them difficult to love, they are frequently admired, treated as someone worthy of our respect.
While there certainly is much to respect in this type of personality, it is by no means ideal.
In this week’s Torah portion, we are told to do “what is good and upright.” The classic Biblical commentary Rashi (Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040 – 1105) explains that “good” means what’s good in the eyes of G-d, and “upright” means finding favor in the eyes of our fellow human beings.
Indeed, our Rabbinic tradition teaches that you can’t have one without the other – “Anyone with whom his fellow men are pleased, G-d is also pleased with him; anyone with whom his fellow men are displeased, G-d is also displeased with him.” (Avos 3:10)
Doing the right thing in the eyes of both G-d and man requires a very delicate and difficult balance. We are sometimes tempted to bend our principles to please others, and sometimes it seems necessary to take a stand that potentially alienates even our loved ones. The legendary Rabbinic leader Rav Moshe Sofer of Pressburg (1762 – 1839) writes that his entire life he struggled with this balance, and notes that in certain ways it is more important, yet more difficult, to find favor in the eyes of man than in the eyes of the Almighty. G-d knows our true intent; man has the tendency to judge unfavorably. (She’eilos U’Teshuvos Chassam Sofer, Volume 6, Likkutim # 59)
But balance we must. The ideal Jew is one who can find favor on the eyes of G-d while simultaneously finding favor in the eyes of all mankind, one who is worthy of both our love and our respect. It is regarding such an individual the prophet tells us that G-d proudly proclaims – “You are the one; you are ‘Israel, in whom I take glory.’” (Isaiah 49:3, Talmud Yoma 86a)