A few weeks ago, I was eating dinner with my family. I was having a great time; laughing, smiling, sharing my thoughts and just enjoying myself. I noticed that the people around me were becoming more and more uncomfortable with how good of a time I was having. It was almost as if I wasn’t allowed to. When they saw me enjoying myself to that extent, they decided I must be drunk.
Sometimes I find that we are taught to hold ourselves back from living life to the fullest. We have to be proper. One of my favorite rules is about modesty. I have been encouraged most of my life to be modest but it seems to me that this sense of modesty that we are told to have is a way of hiding our greatness from the world. When I say to my friend, "wow I am loving this writing. I didn’t know I was so good at it." His response is, “Don’t be so high on yourself." Is that what it means to be modest; to deny that that you are good at something? I wonder to myself, if these ideas around modesty hold us back from embracing our greatness. I wonder if we are being encouraged to be modest or if actually it is an attempt to control our behavior by teaching us to not be too great.
Growing up, I felt that to be a part of the group, I wasn’t allowed to be too happy, too successful or too great. I held on to the belief that showing the world my greatness was not allowed. To be the good wife, mother, daughter, sister, etc. I needed to hide who I was from the world so as not to ruffle any feathers. I had this belief that I was too much for the world. So, I accepted these ideas as facts, so that no one would call me a show off. But what’s interesting, is that it backfired. Being insecure, hiding my truth and keeping up this false sense of modesty made me feel angry. So rather than show my greatness,I hid it from the world. Rather than putting myself out there in all of my glory, I pretended that I was not so great. I pretended so well that I actually started to believe it myself. Yet at the same time that made me angry. So, I acted in a way that was defensive and I actually pushed people away.
These days, I enjoy who I am with a greater sense of ease. I am no longer looking for approvalmost of the time...ok, some of the time. I recognize that the approval I was seeking was false anyway. No matter who or what kind of approval I got, it didn’t mean anything unless I was approving of myself. My sense of false modesty has been stripped (pun totally intended) and I can now stand with all of me in all of my glory.
Rabbi Esther Azar