v’chol hachoshvim alay ra’ah: On (not) reading the comments

Friday afternoon, October 31, my lovely tree-lined Upper West Side street had been transformed into a Halloween horror show. Hanging down from the buildings on my block were ghosts, skeletons, and 5-foot plastic tarantulas (my childhood terrors come to life!), and I was shaken.  I called my mom and left a message in exasperation:  “I hate my block!”

A few hours later, I got a voicemail back.  “Abby, we got your message.  I’m so sorry you hate your blog!  Daddy and I thought it was FINE!”

Earlier in the week, my mom and I had talked through some of her questions about this blog:  she wasn’t sure about the title and she wondered about a point I had made in a post.   Throughout the conversation, I said (more than once): “hmm, maybe you’re right.  I should probably change that.”  And more than once, she responded: “But isn’t the point of the word ‘shameless’ not to be concerned with what other people think?”  So when I called in a Halloween panic, she had reason to think I might have given up hope and closed up shop on this new adventure.

But I’m hanging in.  And I have her to thank for it, as well as some of the other writers who have shared their own questions– and fears– about their writing.  I love that JK Rowling talked about her own fears in her commencement speech at Harvard (a must-watch speech:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c).  Or that my friend and mentor Lenore Skenazy pushes women to use their creative energies, despite their own blocks and questions.  And I’m so grateful to have seen writer Marjorie Ingall ‘s post on Facebook when a friend gave her the perfect necklace: “Never read the comments.”

I am an old pro at reading the comments.  I’ve been doing it before blogs even existed, and without ever reading a single written word. I can walk into a room and within minutes “read the comments” before anyone has opened his or her mouth.

I’m not saying I’m reading them correctly.  My telepathy extends far past its usefulness, most of the time. People may not even be giving me a second thought, but I can still guess what they are thinking, what they are saying, and even what they will say in two hours after I’ve left the room.

It’s good to know I’m not the only one who worries what others think. The meditation at the end of our Amidah, attributed in the Talmud to Mar bar Ravina (Brachot 17a), reminds us that this concern is at least as old as the Talmud itself!  The prayer includes a line for chol hachoshvim alay ra’ah.  “all those who plan evil for me,” or as we might read, for all those who think badly of me…  meherah Adonai Hafer Atzatam v’kalkel machshavtam.  “Quickly, God, mess up their designs and screw up their thoughts!”

Brilliantly, Mar bar Ravina recognized that there is a cycle that happens in our social lives, and very often, we are the instigators ourselves. His meditation begins with the phrase from Psalm 34:  Elohai netzor l’shoni mera… “My God, protect my tongue from evil.”  The more we speak ill of others, the more we might assume that others are speaking badly of us.  When we let our own judgment go, refraining from judging or commenting on others, then we can trust that we live in a world where the “comments” are not unkind.  We create the world which we inhabit, with our actions, our speech, and our own judgments.

As for those comments I’m afraid to read?  Most of the time, they don’t exist!  People aren’t really commenting on my blogs, and as much as it may disappoint me, they’re rarely thinking about me at all! People don’t think about us NEARLY as much as we think they do.  And the meditation helps us to remember that.  V’nafshi ka’afar lakol tihyeh. “Let my soul be like dust to everyone around me.” Or, as I like to think of it, let me remember that I’m just made of dust and ashes, or, to put it more simply, no one really cares.

Ultimately, for better and for worse, none of us is that important.  It turns out that our fears of what others think are often about as real as those plastic tarantulas that hung on my street.  They may make us shudder with terror, but they can’t do any harm because they aren’t even real!   Mar bar Ravina’s real prayer seems to be: God, help me to remember what’s important.  And help me to build a world where we all have the faith and the perspective, every once in a while, to read the comments.


5 thoughts on “v’chol hachoshvim alay ra’ah: On (not) reading the comments

  1. I love this piece and love the section at the end of the amidah that I always find so human, honest, practical, and centering. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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