2-½ minutes to read
Parsha [Passage of Scripture] Nugget [Precious Idea] Shelach – Numbers 13:1-15:41
The military values conformity. Look no further than uniforms, right? Each service branch has its values, hymn, and customs that create a cohesive identity. At times you can feel suffocated by the need to fit in.
America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Conformity
From her earliest days, our Republic has been ambivalent about nonconformists. Despite many colonials being religious dissenters, most colonies had an official church. Only Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious pluralism.
From such an irresolute beginning, nonconformity has seeped into the American character. Teenagers rebel against their parents. The ubiquity of tattoos speaks to a desire for individuality. Yet, because rebellion by teenagers is commonplace, non-rebellious ones feel forced to conform. Sailors feel pressured to get a tattoo since everyone else in their unit has one.
It’s like the hilarious scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Brian preaches to the people, “You’re all individuals.” To which they parrot in unison, “Yes, we’re all individuals!”
In the military, the penalty for nonconformity can be harsh. What about in civilian life?
The Two Ways of the Nonconformist
Humans have wrestled with the dilemma of nonconformity for millennia. Thirty-three hundred years ago, Moses faced this issue when sending men to reconnoiter the Holy Land. In Parshas Shelach:
Caleb silenced the people toward Moses…. (Numbers/Bamidbar 13:30)
In the story of the twelve spies, Moses picks a leader from each tribe. They form a group for gathering intelligence on the Land of Israel. When they return, ten of them report to Moses that the Israelites cannot conquer the Land. Only Joshua and Caleb dissent.
Throughout the spies’ forty-day mission, Joshua disagreed with the group’s conclusions. But Joshua was Moses’s faithful servant. The ten spies were confident the people would consider him biased.
Caleb was another matter. He kept his counsel during the forty-day patrol. Not until the climatic moment did he declare his dissent from the group’s opinion. Unfortunately, he does not sway the Israelites. But he solidifies himself as a man of principle.
Who was right, Joshua and Caleb?
Nonconformity in Civilian Life
After years of conforming in the military, you may feel tempted to adopt Joshua’s consistent, nonconformist posture. Caleb’s plan of going along with the group until principle is on the line seems wishy-washy or weak. But when G-d equates Joshua and Caleb, He makes both of them our models.
So how can we adopt nonconformity all the time while being nonconformist only sometimes?
Don’t make either your exclusive posture. Apply them according to the issue at hand. When deciding on the length of your hair, if you don’t care, take Caleb’s path. Feel free to conform. Don’t think you have to take the rebellious route.
But for your job-hunt, nonconformity works best. Don’t content yourself with hunting the way everybody else does. Always take steps to separate yourself from the pack. Most people rely on job boards. So create relationships to work from the inside. Since PDF resumes are the standard, make a video resume. Conformist job-hunters state their skills. Distinguish yourself by conveying the unique value you bring to the table.
While Caleb earns the Almighty’s commendation, Joshua becomes the leader after Moses dies. G-d recognized his dogged determination to serve the Israelites. Improve your job prospects by following his example.
In what area of your life are you a nonconformist?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
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