Weekly Torah Commentary — Shoftim August 9, 2013

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
“Who is the man who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows to be like his heart.”

In this week’s portion the Torah commands anyone who is afraid of going to war to leave the battlefield and return to his home because of the negative influence that his fear will have on his fellow soldiers. The Sages derive from this that the basic meaning of this mitzvah is that we are to be very careful to avoid acting in any way that will have a negative influence on others.

Our actions do not take place in a vacuum. We are always being noticed by others, consequently it is our responsibility to constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them. Remember the old adage, Actions speak louder than words? When we strive to have a positive effect on our fellowman through our behavior, we become an example that inspires. And when others grow spiritually because of that example, we share in their blessing in Olam Haba (the world to come). Rav Aaron Kotler notes that one who causes others to perform Mitzvot receives incredible reward for his deeds. “one can not imagine the great gain a person receives through this; he merits extra heavenly protection to not stumble in sin and also to a great number of merits, something which would have been impossible for him to achieve through his own free will.”

The greatest way we influence others is through loving them. We make the most important decisions of our lives based on who and what we love. What we might consider as a carefully thought out, logical major decision is never without its emotional aspect for we are emotional beings. Love changes the dynamic of our interactions with others.

Perhaps the second most important way we influence others for good is by listening to them. When we listen attentively, our behavior says to the other person, “I respect you. I care about you.” That, in turn, opens them up to receiving from us, whether in the form of a spoken encouragement or advice or by the example of how we live.

According to Dictionary.com, the word INFLUENCE when used as a noun is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” INFLUENCE as a verb is “To move or impel (a person) to some action.”

So how do we improve in being a positive influence on others and refrain from being a negative one, as we read in this week’s parsha?

First of all, every person has influence on the lives of those around them. Whether our impact is direct or indirect, it behooves us to realize that no one acts in a vacuum. We are continually influencing those around us one way or another.

Secondly, exemplify personal responsibility and integrity. Be true to your word, be consistent. Be real and be honest. Be faithful to your values.

Thirdly, don’t pretend you’re perfect; you’re not. Take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. Don’t make excuses; make corrections. Others will respect you for it.

Fourthly, appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around you and thank them. We all want to be valued and appreciated. Your endorsement also has a ripple effect when a good deed or accomplishment is acknowledged publicly.

Fifthly, work at bringing out the best in others. Let your influence act as a catalyst to spark something within someone else. How many hundreds of accomplished people have noted that a certain teacher or a grandmother or a parent inspired them as a child or a teenager and they give credit to that influence for achievements in later life!

Lastly, care about other people’s feelings. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Influence only qualifies as leadership when you are more concerned with someone else reaching their potential than you are about how their work or action will affect you.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this first Shabbat of the month of Elul, there could not be a more appropriate issue to consider than this one. What kind of influence have I been on others during the past year? What can I do to have a more positive and uplifting influence on those around me in the new year to come?

Shabbat Shalom

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