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Is it important for an introvert to “get out of his shell”?


Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The great 20th century thinker, Isaiah Berlin, wrote an essay (“Two Concepts of Liberty”) in which he made the following point. “Paternalism is despotic…because it is an insult to my conception of myself as a human being, determined to make my own life in accordance with my own…purposes, and, above all, entitled to be recognized as such by others.”

Each person has the right – and responsibility – to live according to his or her best judgment, without being treated “paternalistically” by people who think they know what’s best for him or her.

Some people tend to be shy and introverted by nature. Others tend to be gregarious and extroverted. The important thing is for each person to live comfortably with who he or she is – and to be accepted as such. Some of the deepest thinking and kindest people are introverts “who don’t get out of their shell.” They don’t pretend to be what they aren’t.

If a person feels that his or her introversion and shyness are impediments to functioning properly, he or she should turn to trusted loved ones for advice and/or seek psychological guidance.

Jewish tradition teaches of 36 “tzaddikim nistarim,” hidden righteous people upon whom the world depends. I suspect that since these tzaddikim are so hidden and unrecognized, they probably are introverts!

— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of
the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals


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Rabbi Zev Leff

Firstly, one must distinguish between an extreme introvert due to mental illness, which obviously should be treated professionally, and a person who merely prefers to shy away from interacting with others.

On the one hand, one needs time to be alone for introspection, for personal Torah study, and for simple peace of mind. On the other hand, even in Torah study, learning with others – with a chavrusa, as part of a shiur, etc. – is preferable.

Also, a person should not separate himself from the community and communal projects as activities done in a communal venue have special significance. Additionally, social interaction is a positive aspect of one’s wellbeing as Chazal say, “Oh chevrusah, oh mesusah – Either a friend or death” and “Knei lecha chaver – Acquire a friend.”

In short, one should be encouraged to have a healthy balance between time for oneself and interaction with others.

— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav
Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator


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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

The great sage Reb Zushe of Anapoli once said: When I pass on and I come before the heavenly court, they might ask me, “Zushe, why were you not like Avraham?” For this, I will have a ready response. “Like Avraham? You appeared to him. You spoke to him. You never appeared or spoke to me!”

If they challenge me and say, “Zushe, why were you not like Yitzchak?” again, I will have an immediate retort: “You offered him the opportunity to present himself before you at the Akeida. You never offered me that sort of challenge!”

If they persist and ask me, “Zushe why were you not like Yaakov?” my simple answer will be, “Yaakov fathered the 12 shevatim. How could I possibly have been expected to be like Yaakov?”

He said, “Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, David, whoever – if they challenge me why I was not as one of them, I will always have an answer. There is only one question, which, if they ask me, I will have no valid response: “Zushe, why were you not like Zushe?”

Reb Zushe is teaching us the importance of having an authentic identity. The Almighty didn’t make us to be like everyone else. Each of us is supposed to be our own “Zushe” or whatever one’s name may be. Our job is not to imitate the success of others, but rather to discover our own unique mission in this world.

If one’s nature is more introverted, then there is no need to necessarily break that. There is something that an individual can achieve within the framework of his own emotional makeup. The onus is on each of us to pursue our own destiny and find out who “Zushe” really is.

— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue


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Rabbi Yosef Blau

Halacha mandates some participation in public events. At the same time it prefers a sense of modesty and humility even on such occasions. Trying to infer from these principles whether introverts should try to fight their tendencies and “get out of their shells” is difficult. In general, Judaism favors the golden mean and not extremes.

One can ask a similar question about extroverts – whether they should tone down their behavior. People have personalities and modifying them is challenging.

If one is extremely introverted to the point that he shuns all public events, seeing a therapist may be required. But telling someone that he or she needs to change his or her personality is at best ineffective. And making this into a religious issue is a mistake.

— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at
YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary


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Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

One of the greatest challenges that we as human beings face is coming to terms with our nature and learning to find peace within ourselves. Hashem created each individual with a unique temperament, disposition, and inclinations and learning to get comfortable with the way my creator made me is a great life skill that allows a person to really be an effective, happy human being.

If a person finds that being “in his shell” is debilitating or preventing him from doing things that he feels are appropriate, he should work on himself. But he shouldn’t do so for the sake of being an extrovert, or a different kind of person. He should work on himself only to the extent that being in his shell is blocking him from important or significant achievements that he would otherwise be able to accomplish.

So, it’s a fine idea to work on overcoming one’s limitations and learning to come out of one’s shell – but not as an end in itself. A person is best off and most effective learning his nature and learning to be as effective with his talents and natural disposition as possible.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz


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