We know that Chazal compares Esav to the pig who looks all good and kosher on the outside with his cloven hoof, but is actually completely treif and non-cud-chewing on the inside.
Esav is Edom. And one manifestation of Edom is North America today.
The Inspiring Degenerate
They’re usually very well produced and presented. The writer or speaker is often passionate and convincing. They can be interesting and fill you with pleasurable feelings.
On the other hand, I’ve never heard of anyone who actually did anything with the motivation and inspiration from these videos. (That's part of the Esavite false-front: You've got tons of motivational videos that don't seem to actually motivate anyone.)
Furthermore, I think some people feel discouraged after hearing about someone else’s awe-inspiring success story.
One problem with them is the falsehood innate in many of them.
For example, I remember the disgust I felt when reading the story of a brilliant academic who’d overcome paranoid schizophrenia (with the help and support of a lot of people).
If you use Torah values as your yardstick, this guy was an awful jerk lacking in basic empathy. He had a sadistic streak too, if you judge him by a childhood event in which this young genius created an electric chair and then tried to convince his very sweet sister to sit in it so he could test it out.
He used women, cheated on his wives, abandoned a son who desperately wanted a relationship with him, and so on.
I didn’t find it to be such a tragedy that he thought aliens were recruiting him to save the world in light of the bigger tragedy of his appalling lack of morals.
When he was finally cured (mostly) of being a nutter, he went right back to being the same awful despicable jerk he was before. I couldn’t believe it! After all that, what about some gratitude and appreciation? Or teshuvah?
Yet millions of people consider this an inspiring success story.
Why? Because he’s intellectually brilliant—something Hashem doesn’t care about unless it's accompanied by morality.
But we now live in a society which places such things on a pedestal and convinces everyone to enthuse over it.
The Overblown Overnight Success
Or we’re presented with a simplistic, seemingly miraculous story whose background is kept hidden so as not to stunt the “WOW!” factor—like a girl wins a massive singing competition and her only experience is singing in her room and dabbling in song composition while sitting on her bed.
But then you discover that she’d been taking singing lessons & song composition lessons prior and she’d performed several times in public, plus created and uploaded her own videos. So she actually came to the competition with experience and training—and not straight from her bedroom as presented.
Is such a person talented? Yes, definitely.
But not miraculously talented as portrayed.
The Greek Champion
Now, I’m glad he avoided indulging in drugs and crime. But so many professional football and basketball players lead dissolute lives off the field. Many (if not most) are debauched and their treatment of others leaves a lot to be desired.
So why are these types so admired and held up as the ideal? Because they fulfill a certain athletic ideal of strength and prowess. Also, they make tons of money.
However, if he’d grown up to be a faithful husband & father with a stable job, then that would be an impressive and inspiring accomplishment for someone from his background.
In fact, that would actually be a LOT MORE than playing ball with a bunch of other overpaid ball-runners.
Accomplishment: The Hidden & The Revealed
There is a book (The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity) that idealizes people who grew up in very dysfunctional circumstances and later become normal decent people (as opposed to becoming society's superstars), but it’s an exception.
For a time, I felt that nearly every frum story of overcoming difficulties ended with the person forming an organization to help others. Needless to say, if you can do this, this is VERY good.
But what if you can’t? What if the very thought of starting and running a national or international organization makes you go numb from all the complexities of carrying out that task?
Yes, I think the extreme stories in the frum world are very important. I like to read them too. And as far as the organizations and grand accomplishments go, well, I’ve certainly benefited from them and am personally grateful for those who created them.
My point isn't to bash it—on the contrary, they're very necessary! But it’s not something that every single person can do—nor should it be the measure of personal accomplishment and teshuvah.
People need to know that if you can transform yourself from a dismal person into a decent person, then that is amazing and very precious in Hashem’s Eyes—even if you don’t end up running an entire organization or becoming famous for it.
I once knew a young woman who grew up in nightmarish circumstances. The explosive fights between her parents and their wild acts of revenge against each other broke all boundaries and made the home a frightening place. And this was a daily life!
But her parents’ feral behavior caused her to consider the source: a lack of vatranut (giving in). So she decided to become a vatran. She wasn’t a pushover at all because her vatranut emanated from a place of strength and not spinelessness. And looking for a more moral life and a system which also valued vatranut led her to Torah Judaism.
Seeing her, you’d never guess that such a nice sweet sensible person was raised in such a savage environment.
Her middot are such an amazing accomplishment on their own—even though, to my knowledge, she’s never done anything socially outstanding.
"Hashem Loves Fat, Short People"
The harried-looking frum mother of many children considered pathetic and unattractive in secular society was declared “the most beautiful sight one can imagine” by Rav Miller in his lecture on Parshat Vayetzei. He further exhorted that "there is nothing more beautiful and more perfect than the mothers of our people. That’s the genuine beauty!"
He takes the image of another regular frum woman seemingly not doing anything special, and presents her in the loftiest light:
Here’s a place, let’s say a waiting room, and everybody is dressed in denim. They have no backbone, so since the high school bums wear blue overalls, so the adults also, they have no backbone so they yield to the environment.
An elderly man is sitting in the waiting room wearing blue denim!...Ragged artificial patches, splotches on it as if someone poured ink on it or something.
But then we spot...The Frum Lady:
And here is one woman, she's covered up; her hair is covered up. It's hot, she has sleeves down to her knuckles, she has a long dress, and she is proud, she's not self-conscious.
That woman is the eishes chayil! That's the strength that Hashem cares about.
She's a lion, standing tall and proud in the jungle of naked pygmies!
The people like this woman are the ones carrying aloft the banner of our pride!
(Parshas Vayachei: The Fearful Moment—used with permission)
He took that whole cultural ideal of being cool and youthful and turned it on its head by labeling it as a sign of having “no backbone” and yielding to “bums.”
All of the sudden, the exalted secular society is disdained as a jungle of uncivilly dressed pygmies—and this anonymous average frum lady is the pinnacle of civilization.
Just as a side note, I remember how much I liked acid-washed denim as a teenager and I enjoyed Rav Miller’s description of it as “splotches on it as if someone poured ink on it or something.” Yep! Too bad I didn't realize that then...
Here's Rav Miller again:
You see your husband, a fat, old fellow, waddling in the street, short and fat, you have to say, “I love that man.”… Hashem loves fat, short people.
If they are Jews, shomrei Torah, He loves them intensely, He loves them more than anything in the world.
Of course "fat" isn't a good thing; we shouldn’t give into food taavos and overeat—Rav Miller warns against that too.
But he means that the imperfect frum Jew who is either unnoticed or even despised by his non-frum brothers and many non-Jews—that very Jew is greatly loved by the Creator of the Universe...simply because he’s doing his best to keep halacha.
And because of Rav Miller’s insistence on their gorgeousness, we start to love these Jews too.
And because most of us are regular, imperfect Jews who keep the Torah—even if we’re awkward or messy about it at times—we realize that we are also the kind of Jew Rav Miller declares to be intensely lovable and stunningly beautiful.
And that’s the truth.
The Stunning Greatness of a Regular Jew: Gitty
The Stunning Greatness of a Regular Jew: Leah
The Overlooked Prophetess: Chana
Why a Leah Imeinu Can't (and Shouldn't) be a Sara Imeinu
2 Examples of Unforeseeable Personality Transformation