Rabbi David Hertzberg is the Principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Questions and comments can be emailed to him at Mdrabbi@aol.com.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” might be a clich?, but people ignore it at their own peril. Whether a person is going for a job interview, trying to sell a product or trying to convince people to join his organization, the first impression is critical. It can make the difference between success and failure. The first impression frames the “ideal” picture of a person (or product) for people seeing him for the first time.
Looking back to when I was in seventh grade, I realize now that one of my teachers taught me this lesson in a very real way. As a young teacher, this person felt he could increase his influence with his students by playing ball with them. If his students respected him as a ball player, they would be more open to his suggestions for taking their Judaism more seriously. To convince them of his ball playing ability he came down to the gym one day after school. Everybody was shooting around when he got on the court and joined us.
Shooting from the top of the key he took ten shots – nine of which went in swish. Leaving the gym later that evening he explained to me that it was imperative that he hit those first shots. The students’ opinion of his ball playing would be determined in those first five minutes. Because he hit those first baskets, even if in the future he would miss a lot of his shots, the kids would think that he was just having a bad day. But had he missed those first shots, no matter how many baskets he would make in the future, the kids would merely attribute it to luck. Thus, that first night on the court determined the ideal picture my friends and I had of him as a ball player.
The message of this story applies to all walks of life. Leaders must be especially sensitive to the importance of making good personal impressions, as well as presenting their organizations to prospective members in the best possible light.
In this week’s parshah, Yosef realized that his future came down to the first impression he would make on Pharaoh. Whether he would remain a prisoner for the rest of his life or become a major player in Am Yisrael’s destiny would be determined in the first few minutes of his encounter with Pharaoh. In light of this, we understand Rashi’s comment (41:14) that he shaved and dressed in a manner respectful and appropriate for meeting the king. Yosef recognized the opportunity G-d was giving him. He realized that meeting Pharaoh under such crisis-laden circumstances was no less than a job interview. As such, Yosef understood the importance of appearing in a distinguished manner, so that Pharaoh could envision him serving in his court.
The key for Yosef, however, was with respect to how he would interpret Pharaoh’s dream. In this regard as well, Yosef impressed Pharaoh. Realizing that Yosef was guided by G-d, Pharaoh hired him immediately. The impression was so strong that Pharaoh proclaimed to Yosef (41:39): “there is no one as understanding and intelligent as you are.” To appreciate this episode in contemporary terms, as soon as Pharaoh was convinced of what needed to be done to avoid the crisis, he ended the interviewing process and hired the first job candidate. You can’t make a better first impression than that.
The importance of making a good first impression helps us understand a fascinating answer of Rav Yosef Engel (1859 −1920) in his work Gilyonei HaShas (Shabbat 21b) to the Pnei Yehoshua’s question regarding the necessity of the Chashmonaim finding a jug of tahor oil. Since the law is that, if the majority of people are tameh, the Temple service can be performed b’tumah, it seems that the Menorah could have been kindled with impure oil, with no harm suffered. The essence of Rav Engel’s answer is that although, generally speaking, tumah is permitted in the Temple when people are temaim en masse (as was the case by Chanukah), this rule does not apply when a holy utensil or a Kohen is initiated into the Temple service. The reason is that the initiation sets the tone for the future. If at the initiation tumah is allowed, it will not bode well for the future. The ideal of this particular utensil or Kohen will be forever tainted in people’s minds.
On Chanukah the Chashmonaim were rededicating the Temple after several years of its being defiled. The lighting of the Menorah marked the rededicated Temple’s initiation. As such, the actions of the Chashmonaim during the rededication set the tone for the Temple’s future. The Chashmonaim, according to Rav Engel, did not want to rely on the leniency of tumah being permitted en masse. Too much was at stake. Under the leadership of Yehudah, the Chashmonaim understood what all leaders have to realize − “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”