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“What other people think about me is none of my business.”

While empowering and comforting, is this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt true? Should we care what people think and say about us? Should other people’s opinions about us take up space in our head and heart? Should we be listening and paying attention or is it indeed none of our business?


When negotiating with the tribes who wanted to settle east of the Jordan River, Moshe tells them once the land of Israel is fully conquered, then (Bamidbar 32:22) “Vihyisem nekiyim mei-Hashem u-miYisrael,” “And you shall be clean before God and Israel.”

Based on this, the Mishna (Shekalim 3:2) obligates us to not only avoid doing a wrong thing, but to avoid even the perception that one has done a violation. We must remain innocent in the eyes not just of God, but of our fellow man as well. Indeed, the Chassam Sofer (Teshuvos 6:59) writes that he has been troubled his entire life by this obligation and responsibility. It is one thing to be clean in Hashem’s eyes, since He knows the truth of what we have done. By contrast, the expectation that we can conduct our lives in such a fashion that no person can cast a doubt, or a criticism seems almost impossible.

We have a parallel rabbinic law called maris ayin, a prohibition against doing something that can be misinterpreted as a violation of Jewish law. You have likely heard this term invoked when discussing the permissibility of going into a non-kosher restaurant to order a kosher drink or use the restroom.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe o.c. 2:40, 4:82) explains that the concern of maris ayin is that someone will misinterpret that something wrong is in fact ok and will come to violate a law themselves. The similar concept of chashad, on the other hand, is behaving in a way that will cause others to be suspicious of your wrongdoing, even if it will not impact their own behavior.

The common denominator of both prohibitions is that in both cases, I must be concerned with what others think about me and regulate my behavior accordingly. Or maybe not.

The Mishkan, the central place of holiness and Shechina had a kiyor, a laver that the Kohanim used to wash their hands and feet in preparation for the avodah, the service in the Mishkan. Though Moshe rejected this gift, disturbed that instruments of vanity would be used in the holy Mishkan, Hashem told him that these were, in fact, the holiest gifts and they must be accepted.

Perhaps as the Kohanim prepared to do their service, they needed to look into these mirrors, evaluate their lives, their decisions and their behavior, and consider how they were perceived by those around them. Only when they could successfully look at themselves in the mirror and be satisfied could they continue to do the avodah, to serve in the holy Mishkan.

Yes, we must consider the impact of our behavior on others, how it will be perceived, what others might learn from it, and what type of impression or misimpression we might be giving. Maris Ayin is something we must be cognizant of. At the same time, if we can look at ourselves in the mirror and genuinely be satisfied, if we believe we are acting appropriately in the eyes of Hashem and those we love and respect, I believe we need not look back and think about how others are reacting; rather, we should remember what other people think about me is none of my business.

When people, particular strangers make nasty comments online and offline, it says much more about them than it does about us. Yes, we should consider if the message has merit, even (maybe especially) when we don’t like the messenger or the way they crafted their message. But if the message is unfair, if we can look at ourselves in the mirror and honestly be satisfied with what we see, we cannot and must not absorb the negativity cast our way.

When I was growing up in Teaneck, we had a barber named Chubby. On his mirror was a sign that said, “He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.” We simply cannot make everyone happy all the time, nor should we try. We must be clean in the eyes of Hashem and do our best to behave in way that is beyond reproach to others. But once we do, not only should we not take too seriously what others are saying about us, we shouldn’t even listen.

A rabbinic colleague shared with me how his assistant was starting to tell him what others were saying about him. He cut her off and asked, is it important to know, do you think I did something wrong? When she said no, he said, “In that case, I would rather not know, please don’t tell me.” She was flabbergasted and in disbelief that he had the discipline to not want or need to know what was being said. If what other people think about me is none of my business, why would I even want to know?

At the end of our Amidah, we ask Hashem: v’limkalelai nafshi sidom, may my soul be silent to those who curse me. It is understandable that we ask for the courage and strength that our lips remain silent, but what does it mean to ask for our soul to do the same?

Perhaps we are not concerned we will react or respond harshly, but we are concerned that the curse or criticism of another person might torment and torture our soul. And so we ask, let my soul remain silent, not become frazzled or frustrated by what others are saying about me.

We must do our best and when we are convinced we have done so, we must work on not caring too much about what people say. If all else fails, remember this truism (origin unknown): “When you’re 20 you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.”
{Reposted from the Rabbi’s site}


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Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 950 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States. Rabbi Goldberg’s warm and welcoming personality has helped attract people of diverse backgrounds and ages to feel part of the BRS community, reinforcing the BRS credo of “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity.” For more information, please visit