Kate and William’s Royal Baby and The Royal Yenta Within

kateandwill

Kate and William finally had their much awaited baby, and now the internet is abuzz with news of his arrival. Even the people online who claim to not care at all seem to care enough to tell others just how little they care. Why are we so obsessed with other people’s business? And if you’re not a Royals groupie, how about the people down the block who are adding on an addition or that kid in your kid’s grade who got the highest SAT score?

There are some of us who take interest in the lives’ of strangers because we’re sincerely happy for them and want to share in their good news. But sometimes we look at what the next guy has to compare it to what we have. There is even something darker that lurks within of many of us: we are interested in other people’s business because we take a perverse pleasure in hearing when things are not going so well for someone else. I believe it’s that thing that makes us struggle to look away from a train wreck: both the literal kind (i.e. rubbernecking) and the figurative kind (i.e. the latest celebrity scandal that people like to read about, post about, and talk about).

We all know that jealousy and enjoying someone else’s misfortune feels very wrong and is very wrong, yet there must be a positive way to direct our curiosity. According to Jewish thought, everything in the world can be used for the good or the bad. So how do we channel our inner yenta for a constructive purpose? As the great Rav Yisrael Salanter (the founder of the Mussar movement) said, “My spiritual needs are my neighbor’s material needs.” Or in other words, I can be busy thinking about other people, in fact, I am fulfilling a spiritual goal by doing so, but only if the purpose of my thoughts are in order to help those in need. The comedian Louis C.K., who I doubt has ever studied any of Rav Salanter’s works (and has probably never been quoted directly after him!) said something in a similar vein: “The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

So, what’s a practical way to start using your curiosity about others in order to care for them? The next time you pass an accident on the side of the road – as you feel your neck start to bend backwards to catch a glimpse of the destruction – move your lips instead, and pray for the well-being of the people who were involved. A rabbi of mine once said, “Do you know why ambulances have sirens? In order to alert us that someone needs our prayers.” He instructed us to say Tehillim (Psalms) every time we heard an ambulance pass by. I have been doing that ever since.

I shared this idea with my kids, and my daughter’s pre-school teacher couldn’t believe it when my daughter, at only four years old, stopped playing in the middle of class one day in order to pray when she heard an ambulance driving by. It may be a royal pain to use your curiosity of others only to help them, but remember, it is the noble thing to do.

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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

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  1. I don’t think people are so interested in the Royal Baby because they are jealous. I think they see a beautiful woman and her husband who are married and in love starting a family and they are famous so of course that naturally peaks interest. I think a lot of it is out of admiration. And they deserve it. Unlike so many others, they waited to be married before starting a family. Unfortunately that is rare these days. I think that’s part of the attraction 1) them being a famous, royal family 2) they seem so real too. I watched the footage of them in front of the hospital and they both looked like blissful new parents, loving their new baby. And did you notice that Kate still has her post-baby bump? I’ve seen so many women say that they are happy she’s portraying the way women really look after giving birth. No extreme dieting and weight loss for her!

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment. I did note that some people are interested in strangers’ lives because they’re sincerely happy for them. I do think some women are jealous of things like Kate’s wardrobe. I’ve seen comments like that. Or people making snide remarks about how this baby has done nothing but will have a silver spoon in his mouth. I more used this current event as a springboard to talk about the yenta inside of many of us and how (if it’s thinking bad thoughts) how to direct it for the good.

  2. I think this baby has one of the saddest jobs available. His true task in life is just to wait for his great I grandmother, grandfather and father to die.

  3. Batsheva says:

    Allison, that is one of my favorite quotes from Louis CK. Did you know that even though he was raised Catholic, he’s 1/4 Jewish? His real last name is Szekely, which is a Hungarian Jewish last name, and it’s pronounced CK. (The ely ending in Hungarian is pronounced like a long A.) He didn’t change his name for comedic purposes–it was strictly because he got tired of telling people how to pronounce it! I always thought that was an interesting story. I’ve followed his career for some time now, ever since I saw his “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” bit. That just blew me away. If you haven’t seen it, you should search for it on youtube. When I started researching him, it turned out that his (Jewish) grandfather was from the same town in Hungary as my grandmother. I can’t help wondering if they knew each other as children. Sorry this is all off-topic. Anyway, it was a great essay, and what I’ve always tried to teach my 10-year-old daughter. It isn’t easy because she’s the only not-rich kid in her day school. I took her to volunteer in a soup kitchen with me to get some perspective, but it’s hard because she’s surrounded by people she knows have more than enough every day. Any suggestions for dealing with that?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Interesting info about Louis CK! I saw his clip. What are you trying to teach her? To not compare herself to others? I think the best way to do this is to make her see that NOTHING in life is coming to her. She needs to say thank you any time you buy her something new, take her somewhere special. This article I wrote has some other ideas: http://jewinthecity.com/2011/11/thank-your-locky-stars-the-source-of-gratitude-on-thanksgiving-and-everyday/

      • Batsheva says:

        I just read the article you linked to. It’s wonderful. When my kid gets all demanding, I will usually remind her of everything I do for her, but she just rolls her eyes. I think if I phrased it in the form of questions that she was then forced to answer, it might help a little. The idea of not comparing herself to others, being grateful for what she has, not looking in other peoples’ bowls except to make sure they have enough; this is what I’m really trying to instill more than anything. It isn’t easy. I try to show her online how millions of other people in the world live in huts without running water and electricity. I try to show her how even though she may be the poorer than the other kids in her class, she’s richer than 90% of the people in the world. It’s so hard to get it to sink in though. Anyway, thank you. You’re very wise for such a young woman, Allison.

  4. I heard recently something that went like this: The Yetzer Hara tells us right now it’s sweet, right now I’ll feel good. For example I’m about to lose my temper, that’s how I’ll feel good right now, I wanna “yenta” and judge everyone right now cuz there’s a sweetness to misery and we know if we do these things we put ourselves in misery. That’s the Yetzer Hara. The Yetzer Tov says, don’t! Wait don’t lose your temper! Don’t yenta! Don’t judge! I know you’ll revel in the sweetness of it right now but if you forego it now, you’ll have a lifetime of real sweetness. 🙂
    Anyway, thought I’d share.
    Thanks for your articles. They are always so eye opening and helpful!

  5. Royal watching isn’t just about schadenfreude. More than anything else, I found myself thinking of the line from Pirke Avot -“Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place” – when reading friends’ reactions to the Royal baby. It was shocking how judgmental people were (and how many of them so) about not naming the kid after Princess Diana’s family. People project their own personal issues, cultural norms, and environmental influences, onto the lives of famous strangers where they don’t apply.

  6. good one!

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