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Friday, 14 September, 2018 - 2:16 pm

Have you ever visited one of those funhouse mirror-rooms? You stand before the mirrors and they show you a bizarre and distorted caricature of your body. You laugh at the reflection because it is preposterous. It is both you and not you.

But what if you believed that the funhouse mirror showed the truth about the shape of the world and your place in it?  You’d be horrified. Yet, in many ways, this kind of distortion afflicts our self-image in today’s society. When we define ourselves by the negative opinions and perceptions of the people around us, our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror. We see things that aren’t there and miss the beauty of the things that are. That is why the view we have of ourselves cannot come from others who are blind to the vast potential and resources we store in our souls.

Stephen Covey, the author of the bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was a business professor for many years. In his classes, Covey asked students to take out a blank piece of paper and make a list of words on the left side of the page describing the way they believed that others saw them. “That’s called the “social mirror,” he would say.

Covey then asked the students to write words on the right side of the page that described the way they felt G-d saw them, what he called the “Divine mirror.” Usually, two-thirds of the students got their concepts of themselves through the social mirror. In other words, most people get their sense of identity from other people’s opinions of them.

That means, Covey said, that only one-third of people are on the path to becoming a leader. To become a true leader, one must recognize that he or she is not the product of the social mirror, but the Divine. G-d sees into our heart and reflects our highest potential and talents and capacities.

Covey is exactly right. Consider a great Jewish leader, King David. When we think of David, we think of a uniquely gifted man who achieved astonishing success. He was a courageous warrior who united Israel’s tribes, established Jerusalem as the capital of the Jews, and founded a dynasty that remained in power for 500 years. He authored the book of Psalms, one of the best-selling literary works of all time.

Yet, when he was young, no one saw his potential; the social mirror said that he was never going to amount to much. This was a message he heard from his family, his king, and his enemies.

David’s father, Yishai, didn't think his youngest and eighth son had potential. His brothers had significant positions in the military, but David didn't. His job was humble; he cared for his family's sheep.

One day David's father learned that the prophet Samuel was coming to anoint one of his sons to be Israel's next king. He was thrilled. When Samuel arrived, Yishai lined up the sons he thought had royal potential—every son except David. Yishai didn't even bother to call David in from the fields. He wasn’t a candidate.

First Yishai marched his eldest son, Eliab, a tall, striking man before the prophet. Samuel was certain he had met the new king but G-d’s voice intervened: “Don't look at his appearance for I have cast him aside. For G-d doesn't see things the way you see them.”

People judge by outward appearance, the social mirror—but G-d looks into the heart, the Divine mirror!”

These two types of visions are opposites. Only the second lens reveals the truth.

Yishai subsequently parades the rest of his seven older sons before Samuel, but G-d did not choose any of them. Samuel was confused. He asked, “Are you sure you have no more sons?”

Yishai said, “Well, I do have one other son, David. He's out in the fields, but I know it's not him. He will never amount to much.”

Samuel said, “Bring him in.” And G-d said this is the one, anoint him. He is to be the next king. Still, David experienced a similar rejection from his brothers, even after he was seen by G-d.

David’s future father-in-law, King Saul, also did not believe in him. When King Saul heard that there was someone in his cowering camp who was willing to fight Goliath, he sent for him, expecting a powerful warrior. In walked a shepherd boy, attired for sleepy hills rather than the front lines. Saul said, “There’s no way you can fight this giant and win. You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” David, being a good Jewish boy, ignored his future father-in-law.

His foes also underestimated him. Goliath was dismissive of David. When the Philistine saw how small David was, he laughed and said, “Am I a dog that you would come at me with a stick?” The smile was clear: “Don't you Jews have anyone better to send out against me that this teenager? It's not even going to be a fight.” Goliath continued, “Come to me, and I will feed you to the birds in the sky.” The giant didn’t believe the boy was even worthy of a proper burial.

At this crucial moment that would resonate for ages, David faced immense opposition from his father, his brothers, King Saul, and finally Goliath. The social mirror was telling him he was not qualified. He could have said, “I can’t do anything great. I’m just a shepherd. Nobody is celebrating me. Nobody is validating my gifts.” It is not hard to imagine him sweating, wondering if he was missing the inadequacy everyone else saw so clearly.

Instead, David took just the opposite approach. He looked at himself with the Divine mirror. His attitude was, “I am not the sum of what you see; I don’t need your recognition. I am what G-d sees, I have the power G-d has given me.” David broke through the limitations and barriers that others placed around him and defeated Goliath!

Barriers don’t block us unless we let them! You may be like David, up against a colossal giant right now—a giant of failure, a giant of sadness, or a giant of addiction. It might block the sun, and cast a long shadow of darkness. People may say you’ll never accomplish your dreams. The social mirror may be saying that you have no potential. But in reality, you have the greatest potential of all: 

You have G-dly potential.

On Yom Kippur, we are meant to look harder at ourselves and to recognize the holiness that each of us carries within, the sacred beauty and potential of our inner selves. Today is an invitation to abandon what the social mirror may be telling us and to perceive ourselves instead as G-d does. So, don’t shrink back. Do as David did and G-d will help you break through your own barriers.

When David broke his barriers, so did the army of Israel break theirs. His personal victory inspired victory for the entire nation. The moment Goliath fell, the army of Israel rose. Their fear was replaced with courage. People follow the example of a genuine leader. The moment David accomplished more than anyone thought was possible, so did the people. And so can we.

Years after Goliath’s defeat, David was king. He built Jerusalem, made it Israel's spiritual and political capital, and now, on the proudest day of his life, was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city accompanied by much singing and dancing. David was overjoyed and broke into boisterous dancing. “He danced with all his might before G-d.” Then we read that David's wife, Michal, daughter of King Saul, watched David dancing and thought it was foolish. Imagine the old king dancing with the joy of a young man.

Like a good wife, when David came home she told him what she thought. Consider the scene: David, the greatest king in Jewish history, on the greatest day of his career, when the whole nation and Heaven were enthusiastically cheering him on, came home to his wife saying, “Dear husband, you are a fool; you belong on the throne, not dancing the cha-cha.”

David responded, “It was not foolish. It was before G-d that I was dancing... and the truth is I should celebrate even more.”

In the same way, our friends and family may think it is foolish for us to dance before G-d, it is foolish to celebrate our Judaism with passion. But this story reminds us that when it comes to celebrating our Judaism, we should dance away. And when we do, others will join in, and it will be beautiful and contagiously joyous.

There was a couple named Cohen who wanted very much to be part of high society, so they did what so many others have done to make it in America. They changed their name, to Cowen.

Well, their dream came true. They had two children, a house, a pool, and three cars. And one day in December their daughter Sue came home from school with a picture of an X-mas tree. “Look what I made today, daddy! Can we have one? Please, daddy, can we have one? Please daddy, can we celebrate this holiday?”

Mr. Cowen thought about it. His daughter’s question hit him hard. He said, “Dear Sue, tomorrow night I’ll have a surprise for you. The next night Sue came home from school. Daddy and mommy were there and they had a wrapped box. Sue opened it quickly and found a menorah with a box of colored candles. “This is our holiday, dear Sue. This is our heritage.”

They lit the menorah on the windowsill that night. They taught their children all about Chanukah and worried to themselves, what will the neighbors say? There was a knock on the door. It was Mr. Richardson, the neighbor. “Those colored candles on the windowsill bring back memories of my grandfather’s house. Where can I get a menorah?” The next night there were two menorahs on the windowsills on this block. Then came Mrs. Anderson and Mr. Jones. By the time the eighth night of Chanukah came around, nearly the whole block had the colored candles burning brightly on their windowsills. Their souls were ignited, and there was so much to see.

When it comes to celebrating your Judaism, don’t focus on the social mirror; look at the Divine mirror and celebrate! Light your candle and you will move others to light theirs. Together we will form a most beautiful symphony, one of Jewish celebration.

May G-d help us to see ourselves as He sees us, not as others do; to focus on what can be accomplished with G-d, not what we can’t accomplish without G-d. May we rise above all the barriers that block us, so that we might help others rise above their own. And may we have the vision to see a better world, and the conviction to bring it into sight.

Shana Tova! May you and yours be inscribed for a happy and healthy prosperous year!

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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