Positive Vision - Day 92
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
On the whole, as frum Jews we try to isolate ourselves from our surroundings: our neighbors are Jews, we go to Jewish schools, and we socialize with Jews. But then we leave home to go to work. And many of us spend most of our waking hours at the office, among colleagues with whom we share neither standards, nor values, nor sensitivities.
We are stuck. How do we handle this reality?
Our co-workers become our “family.” What are their standards? How do they dress? What do they talk about? Is there in fact no alternative? Are we willing to compromise our standards just because the earning potential is higher? Are we halachically allowed to do so? Perhaps we should confer with our rav, or consider working for a lower wage at a firm that does not demand that we battle the yetzer hara for eight hours each day.
But given that we are working in a non-Jewish environment, what is our mindset? Do we embrace the reality, or do we resist it?
Embracing the “inevitable” is the path of least resistance. Humans are social creatures who want to fit in. We are uncomfortable appearing standoffish, different, even weird, and out of the loop. But preserving our kedushah demands that, to some degree, we dissociate from our co-workers. Shmirah at the office is possible if we have the courage, conviction, and energy to be somewhat different and distant.
The easiest way of doing so is by maintaining an aura of professionalism. Avoiding casual dress, not sharing personal information, and referring to co-workers as “Mrs. So and So” are some examples.
Scrupulously adhering to the halachos of yichud prevents us from being placed in compromising situations. Briefly, the prohibition against yichud applies when one is behind a closed door that someone else will not enter without knocking first.
A general thought about how a Jew should relate to non-Jews: How do we balance our two objectives — to be a positive influence upon our non-Jewish neighbors while at the same time separating from them? The answer is that we are meant to lead by example, not conviviality. Our goal must be to garner others’ respect for our integrity and work ethic, rather than seeking membership in “the club.” We may not be able to come across as a “regular guy” but we will lose no traction in our careers — and will most likely gain — if we strive, instead, to come across as an extraordinary guy.