Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prelude to Post: I can’t seem to fight it. Late Parsha posts are my fatal flaw (well one of them…you’ll soon see that I have many others). Bear with me anyways?

Comparison is the Thief of Joy
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        I’m convinced that I’m an old soul. In fact, I like to think of my soul or consciousness (or whatever you’d like to call it) as a stereotypically portrayed grandmother. There she is with her silvery hair coiled into an immaculate bun, quilt thrown over her legs, knitting a hat, murmuring to herself in Yiddish (which is kind of odd because I’m of Middle-Eastern descent and all…huh).

       Freud calls her my “super-ego,” the Rabbis tell me that she is my “Yetzer Tov,” and I simply dub her as traditional “Jewish guilt.” Either way, this inner grandmother of mine has all the answers. She’s experienced and astute and highly intuitive. The catch-22 is that my know-it-all soul is constantly beleaguered by my actual 22 year old self (is that why they call it a catch-22?). My occasional recklessness, youthful abandon, and despair can ostracize my soul’s good-willed guidance. For instance, my inner grandmother advises me to not compare myself to others. G-d bless her. She is 100% right.
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Artistic representation of my Super-Ego/Yetzer Tov/Jewish Guilt?
"Jewish Woman with Oranges" by Aleksander Gierymski
       Yet, why I do find myself frequently indulging in that ugly habit anyways? When I read or hear about young, accomplished women all I want to do is shirk in a corner and cover myself with a behemoth blanket of shame, because I feel under-accomplished and feeble in their shadows. Am I the only one who feels this way? I don't think so. The 21st century constantly invites us to be measured against a ridiculous barometer of self-worth. Whether it’s Facebook statuses that trill about our co-worker’s holidays to Paris, tweeted updates on our neighbor’s acceptance to Columbia U., or an Instagram shot of our friend’s Cindy Crawford-like self, other people’s personal lives are incessantly streaming into our own. Sure, people have been adversely comparing themselves to others for generations, but living in this particular generation makes it all the more accessible and magnetic.
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Images from Vogue
       In this past week’s Parshat Vayeichi, Yaakov Aveinu’s blessings to his 12 sons create potential for a comparison festival, a goldmine for envy, guilt, and embitterment. This is particularly the case with Yaakov’s sons Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. These three Shevatim were chastised for their passionate nature and their haphazard decision-making, while the rest of their siblings received blessings like wealth, spiritual dedication, and military strength.
       Reuven, Shimon, and Levi aside, the other Shevatim are also susceptible to comparing their allotted fortunes with others. The tribe Dan could yearn to be like Shevat Yehuda, who is ordained to be King over Israel, while Gad pines to have the innate energy of his brother Naftali. However, in spite of their different roles, the Shevatim refrained from harboring jealousy and skidding into the be-deviled “compare and contrast” rut.
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Girl on left: 1 loaf of bread. Girl on right: 2 loaves of bread. Care to compare and contrast them even more?
       If only I can master that! My teachers in high school would spew theories like “Hashem assigns each of us a mission on this earth and we are handed exactly what we need to accomplish that mission.” This explanation has truth written all over it, but as I’ve mentioned in previous Parsha posts, spiritually esoteric explanations do not lull my agitation. The above answer is one that I will only fully understand when Moshiach or Heaven comes. Because let’s face it, I’m still asking G-d “Why can’t my life’s raison d’être involve a trust fund, having a button nose instead of a wide one, and Prince Charming arriving at my doorstep like…yesterday?”
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      So, thank you Morah X, Y, and Z for your answers. They are honest and authentic, but they’re not consoling to this very un-lofty girl. They merely drive my mind in circles.
My New Year’s Resolution is to quit this poisonous “comparing” mentality. I strive to do this through down-to-earth pep talking:
1)      Avoid comparison because as Teddy Roosevelt quipped:
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       There it is plain and simple, stripped of all philosophical jargon and grandiose sermons. I realize that the more I compare myself to others, the more saddened I become. I also become less focused on my own work and relationships, since I’m concentrating on the feats and victories of others. Measuring my virtues and faults against another’s is the most effective way to drain energy. And well--I kind of need energy.
       2) Comparing our lives to a friend’s is futile because how do we truly know what our friend’s life is like? We don’t. Yes, her life could seem like its teeming with rainbows, unicorns, and endless shopping sprees to Saks, but for  all we know, it could be a delusional, photo-shopped portrayal of something entirely different.
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Photo of Andrea Johnsohn, by Cecil Beaton 1945
       “All the world’s a stage/and all the men and women merely players” quoted the revered William Shakespeare. No one’s life is a clichéd bowl of cherries. Some are simply better thespians than others, and they could perform a more “professional” dramatic performance. But, keep in mind that’s all it is: a performance. We also don’t know of all the tears and sweat a person has shed prior to obtaining victory. We don’t know their distress and their pain. All we see is the final result, one that is supposedly devoid of struggle. How can we become envious of another’s superficially glorified triumph, when its reality can actually be complicated and challenging? And finally...
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Good luck to us all on fulfilling our New Year’s Resolutions! (Don’t worry—I know this isn’t the real New Year. I’m still a good Jewess—or so I hope).



  1. Lovely! I always keep saying this: We don't truly know someone unless we are living in their house. Even then!

    We are not all the same, and what works for someone else shouldn't work for you. We strive at our own pace, and we should be present in our own journey, instead of comparing ourselves to the other travelers.

  2. Exactly. "Present in our own journey" will be my new catchphrase. Thanks :)