Today, as I went to wait in the hot afternoon sun for the bus to pick up my 6-year-old from school, 2 preteen frum girls in school uniform were in the middle of a giggly water bottle fight.
They kept throwing big splashes of water at each other.
I've lived in the frum community in Eretz Yisrael for over 25 years and I never saw frum preteen girls behaving like this—not to this extent, anyway.
Thinking they would stop (because usually when the girls get hyper, they stop when an adult shows up because they're embarrassed), I went around them to take shelter from the heat under overhang of the bus stop. But they continued hurling water at each other.
Not wanting to get wet, I went out around to the glass-walled outer side of the shelter, which was also shady, knowing the glass protected me from any water coming my way.
I confess I gave an audible passive-aggressive sigh as I moved, but they didn't hear it.
Until the bus came, the girls continued their water-hurling amid lots of giggling & shrieking, both from each other and from their friends.
Let's stop here & examine it for a moment.
Pushing Myself from the Natural Me to the Little-Bit-Better Me
Yep, that was the kneejerk response.
(Also, I've been jittery about the present uproar throughout Eretz Yisrael, going around with a continuous feeling of butterflies in my stomach. So that proves more challenging when dealing with minor annoyances like the above.)
Then another influence kicked in.
The secular self-help culturally influenced part of me said, "I need to assert myself! I have rights! I must tell them calmly yet firmly to stop. If I don't, then I am displaying low self-esteem & allowing myself to be taken advantage of!"
Then the Torah influence started flowing over the first two responses: "They don't mean to be inconsiderate. They're probably very nice girls! They didn't really notice me when I went by. They would never splash a stranger intentionally. Anyway, the whole country is in uproar right now. We're all stressed-out and this is how these young girls are letting off steam without even realizing it. I understand them. I can sympathize with them."
At the same time, concepts of emunah worked their way in too: "Hashem wants them to be doing this. And Hashem wants me in this situation for my own benefit—like to work on my middot."
That was good enough.
But then, a recently learned lesson made its way into my head—that of Rav Shteinman as described here:
Why not be mefargen these girls?
They're not even hurting me in anyway; just causing a very minor inconvenience.
Why not say something similar to what Rav Shteinman said about the unruly boys (who behaved so much worse than these innocent girls)?:
"Let the girls enjoy themselves. They appear to have pleasure in splashing water on each other, the bus stop, and the sidewalk. Let them continue."
I did my best to be mefargen them, to be happy for them in my heart until the bus came (and one gave a final splash from the steps of the bus to her friends on the sidewalk, forcing me to stand back before I could get on the bus too).
And that's the whole point of allowing oneself to be influenced by Torah ideas:
You never need to just stay stuck with your natural, instinctive response of the not-so-great part of you—especially if that natural response causes you (or anyone else) misery, hostility, contempt, arrogance, or any other kind of unpleasantness.
And Torah values are definitely a fortunate thing because before I was frum, I simply could not think of these things on my own.
Looking Beyond Comparisons & Condemnations
Camp #1 says: "You're so ridiculous. Immature. Petty. And persnickety. Why on earth did these splashing girls bother you in the first place? I mean, c'mon! It's normal for preteens to clown around. Anyway, it's just water. And it was a really hot day! So even if you got splashed, it would feel good & evaporate really fast. It's just not that big a deal!"
Camp #2 says: "Wait just one minute—those girls were wrong! You have every right to sit down or stand in the bus stop shelter! Why should you have to stand outside the shelter & allow them to continue their inappropriate behavior? You definitely should have spoken up—if not for yourself, then to get those girls to understand why they need to be more considerate and less immature!"
So here's the thing.
These situations are highly individual.
How one person needs to respond to break her middot is different than how another person needs to respond.
Individual needs also differ from person to person.
If, for example, I was pregnant, elderly, disabled, weak, or ill, and NEEDED to sit, then my challenge would be to assert my need to sit down in a good-natured way.
Or, if no other shady spot existed, then my challenge would be to kindly assert my need to stand under the overhang of the bus stop without getting wet.
Meaning, I could have stopped the thought process after giving them the benefit of the doubt & viewing the situation with emunah. Then, coming from that better place, I could've turned to them with a good-natured request to allow me to either sit down or stand in the shade under the overhang.
However, I did not NEED to sit down within the shelter of the bus stop, so I chose to push my middot in a different yet parallel direction.
And yes, I could also have rebuked the girls & explained why they needed to behave more appropriately, but I didn't think I could do it in the right way, and anyway, I really felt Hashem brought me into that situation for a different purpose (meaning, to work on my middot and not theirs).
Additionally, one person's starting-point is higher while another's is lower.
Even if my initial inner response was petty, immature, and hypersensitive...so what?
That's who I am & where I am holding!
That's where Hashem put me, whether by imprinting that nature on me from birth or by placing me within an upbringing that cultivated this nature.
And I need to think this generously about other people too.
Our job is to deal with ourselves at whatever level we hold & whoever we are at that moment.
Condemning ourselves for being flawed in the first place isn't helpful. It's not even logical (because Hashem is at the root of your flaw).
Our job is to break our middot by pushing ourselves to be at least a little bit better than we are.
Without Torah hashkafah, it would never occur to me to feel anything other than resentful or self-righteously assertive in the above situation.
So it's not about feeling gaavadik, but feeling grateful.
It's more like, "Wow, Hashem. Without You, I wouldn't be able to do anything good. Awesome...thanks!"
May we all succeed in doing complete teshuvah from love.