To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
In an age plagued by narcissism, it is no wonder that “selfishness” has become a derogatory word. Too many leading figures have burned us with their greed and self-centeredness. The Bernie Madoffs of the world have compelled many of us to place more of a stress on altruism, philanthropy, and a rededication to the welfare of the world and its inhabitants.
But is selfishness a wholly negative trait? Should parents and educators strike it from their vocabulary and lesson plans? Or can selfishness ever be good and constructive?
“As a general rule, there are no attributes of the soul that are good or bad,” my dear teacher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once wrote. “There is no attribute that lacks its injurious aspect, its negation and failure, just as there is no attribute – even if connected with doubt and heresy – that has not, under some circumstances, its holy aspect.”
Since no attribute is essentially negative, none can justifiably be disqualified. Moreover, any attempt to do so would be a terrible injustice toward God, the very creator of those virtues and traits.
Further, the virtue of selflessness is profoundly connected with the virtue of selfishness. One can only give that which he has acquired, innately or extrinsically. For example, only the wise who selfishly acquire wisdom, and the talented who selfishly develop their talents, can contribute significantly to society. Thus the more selfish one is in building a good, solid self the more capable one will be in giving to his surroundings.
One of the leading rabbis of the nineteenth century, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa, once addressed his disciples with a surprising yet important request: “Write two truths on two separate notes,” he told them. “Let one state the teaching of our Sages ‘For my sake the world was created [Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37b].’ The other should state the verse uttered by our forefather Abraham ‘I am dust and ashes [Genesis 13:27].’
“Now place these two notes in your pockets. When you are feeling useless, take out the note that states ‘the world was created for you.’ But if your achievements engender arrogance, take out the second note and remember that you are but ‘dust and ashes.’ ”
It is time for society to restore selfishness and channel it in the right direction. Unfortunately, because of the overemphasis placed on outward performance and achievement, we’ve often overlooked that which truly cries out for our selfish attention. Let us therefore effect a change of outlook and actions vis-à-vis two fundamental areas that necessitate selfishness more than ever: our marriages and our children.
Too often marriages end in divorce because the initial bond, the first encounter, is based on a misguiding and essentially unserious connection. We have forgotten that the success of marriage depends a great deal on the way it is formed. It is never enough to marry a person just because he is physically attractive, prosperous, or comes from a good family. And the information a person may obtain from prior conversations and excursions with a potential spouse, in private or public, is never enough to shed light on the totality of one’s being and personality.
Hence, two steps must be introduced: First, individuals have to study themselves thoroughly and selfishly. Second, they must study potential spouses thoroughly and selfishly too. This will enable couples to see if their own pieces of their puzzle fit well together. And if they are selfish enough throughout this process, they will be able to give of themselves to their marriage lovingly and selflessly.
The family unit is yet another area that must be addressed. The research here is astounding. Studies show that the less often a family eats together, the worse the experience is likely to be and the more meager the talk. They also show that children who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to get mainly A’s and B’s in school than are children who have two or fewer family dinners a week.
The conclusion is clear and obvious: a healthy family is one whose children are a foremost priority. Parents in a healthy family never compromise on the education of their children – not in their determination to find the best school for their children, regardless of their level of religious observance or income; not when they find their children watching a destructive TV program; not when their children are seduced by a harmful idea. They are always there to show the way, to sound the lucid voice of morality, because they know their children deserve the best education and guidance.
These parents are passionately selfish about their children’s education, and that is the reason why their families are exemplary.
It is only this selfish approach that will mold the men and women of the next generation into role models with clarity of vision and an unshakable commitment to moral values.
So the next time you hear the term “selfish” used in a derogatory way, don’t accept the negative connotation so quickly. If you’re in the midst of finding a perfect spouse, or are busy establishing a solid path of education for your children, you will surely need it. And even if you’re not, your growth and potential contribution to the world still depend on it.
About the Author: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Judaism and social analysis.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
As Arabs murder and maim Jews, Jordan’s leaders bark the blood libel of “Israeli aggression.”
Perhaps attacking a terrorist’s legacy broadly and publicly would dissuade others from terrorism?
R’ Aryeh yelled “Run, I’ll fight!” Using a chair against terrorists to buy time so others could flee
The “Media” didn’t want us to know what a kind, giving, loving young woman Dalia was.
A “Palestine” could become another Lebanon, with many different factions battling for control.
Maimonides himself walked and prayed in the permissible areas when he visited Eretz Yisrael in 1165
Having a strong community presence at the polls shows our elected officials we care about the issues
Israel’s Temple Mount policy prefers to blames the Jews-not the attackers-for the crisis.
When Islam conquered the Holy Land, it made its capital in Ramle of all places, not in Jerusalem.
I joined the large crowd but this time it was more personal; my cousin Aryeh was one of the victims.
Terrorists aren’t driven by social, economic, or other grievances, rather by a fanatical worldview.
The phrase that the “Arabs are resorting to violence” is disgraceful and blames the victim.
Tuesday, Yom Shlishi, a doubly good day in the Torah, Esav’s hands tried to silence Yaakov’s voice.
Because of the disparate nature of the perpetrators, who are also relatively young, and given the lack of more traditional targets and the reverence Palestinians have for their homes, one now hears talk of Israel returning to a policy of destroying the houses of terrorists’ families.
On Facebook, young and old alike fool themselves into believing they are better than the person they see in the mirror.
As the dust settles and the fog lifts from this tumultuous year of political campaigning, we are left to wonder how our country will evolve. Will the economy bounce back? Will our schools make progress? And how about U.S. relations with Israel? Will they grow weaker or stronger? Will the administration support an Israeli strike on Iran?
It was not a necessary part of our busy itinerary. It was not even a noble errand. But the craving for a tasty lunch led our group to experience a moment never to be forgotten.
Our blinding attraction to drama has captivated so many of us. We love to live it, watch it, or even worse, create it.
“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.
My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?
Winds of uncertainty are blowing across the globe. The future remains unsure. Will the sun shine again? Will stability reemerge after the storm dies down?
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/when-selfishness-is-healthy/2009/07/08/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: