Do You Want to Be Famous?

“Abba, when I grow up, I want to be famous.”

That was the opening line of a conversation with our kids while driving up the highway from Miami to Boca. The inspiration for the comment was a massive advertisement with a picture of a young child. Of course, the advertisement had nothing to do with that kid. It said “shot on iPhone.” But in the minds of my own children, the child on that billboard was famous. So I followed up:

“Why do you want to be famous?”

“You get to drive cool cars and go to really fun places.”

“Do you think that the kid on the billboard can drive cool cars and go to fun places?”

“Well, maybe not yet. But now that they’re famous, they will be able to whatever they want when they get older.”

As adults we understand the flaw in the logic. But I hear the point; and my kids are not entirely wrong. We live in a society where fame, fortune and fun are usually displayed as a package deal.

My kids, along with most kids today, are growing up in world of YouTubers and Influences. And while we certainly monitor the things that they watch and the media that they consume, it is undeniable that social media personalities are fast becoming the some of loudest voices that they and we hear.

A 2019 survey found that 29% of children listed YouTuber as their first choice of profession. Another study found that 86% of young Americans are willing to post sponsored content for money (and 20% of that group said they would do it even if they didn’t like the product.)

It all makes sense, of course. The job of a social media influencer is simply to live their best life on camera. It is the highest ideal of our society; working out, eating great food, exploring exciting places, driving fast cars... All of it paid for by other people. It would seem that there is no down side.

But while fame might give a person access to fortunes and fun, it comes with a heavy price tag: As more and more of our live are lived in public, the smaller our private lives become. Tragically, many people pay the price without ever getting the things they hope to receive.

As thinking, dreaming, aspiring, yearning Jews, the notion of a steadily shrinking private life is a disaster. But to a large extent, this does not seem to concern people in the world around us. The desire to inhabit a private life is practically countercultural, and perhaps we should explain the centrality of this elusive value.

The western world believes in celebrating our successes; advertising our victories and publicizing anything and everything positive. All of this is wonderful and important. But it comes with painful collateral damage: Almost by definition, anything left in our private, all the parts of our unfiltered and unaired life, are shameful and unworthy of publicity. The only reason to hide something is because it is doesn’t meet our standards. Why else would we hide it?

All this is to say: We have created a reality in which the dividing line between “success and failure” is practically indistinguishable from “public and private”. This leads to a mindset that privacy is embarrassing and publicity is applauded. The drive to “celebrate our success” is healthy and normal; but it also further cements the dark perspective that anything not celebrated not a success.

Little by little we have eroded the very idea of a private life. We have become bifurcated people, split between the world we share, and the world we conceal.

Because of this, the absence of Moshe’s name in Parshas Tetzaveh is seen as some kind of punishment. The Rosh (רא”ש על התורה, שמות כ״ז:כ׳) comments that since the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu, there is no Parsha which does not have the name Moshe – all except this one. Why is his name missing? Why is it that Moshe is denied publicity this Shabbos?

The Rosh, and his son the Baal HaTurim explain: During Moshe’s plea for Hashem to forgive the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe puts himself on the line, negotiating with the Master of the World: ואם אין מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת – “If you don’t forgive them, then erase me from the Book which You have written.”

The Zohar HaKadosh explains that everything Moshe Rabbeinu said was meaningful – even if it was only said conditionally. In some way, Moshe caused himself to be “erased” from the Torah. In order to fulfill these words, his name is missing from Parshas Tetzaveh.

This whole story is strange. Moshe was acting with exceptional selflessness; he is the paradigm of Mesiras Nefesh for Klal Yisrael. Moshe is willing to give up everything for the sake of his people. Why on earth should he be punished for this?

But what looks like a punishment and a curse from our perspective was most likely the greatest reward for Moshe himself. We should recall that Moshe did not want to be a leader. He did not want to be famous. He was content to remain a shepherd, spending his life meditating, learning and connecting to Hashem. The only reason he entered the limelight at all was for the sake of the Jewish people. Without them, Moshe had no need for publicity.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai of Lelov explains that in the deepest way, Parshas Tetzaveh is Moshe’s reward for a life dedicated to Hashem’s people. This Shabbos, Moshe returns to the anonymity he cherished. He returns to the intimacy of those vast open plains, where it was just Him and Hashem alone. Chazal refer to this intimate private world as “p’nimiyus” the world inside.

My Rebbe, Rav Blachman, told us that decades ago in Chabad the greatest insult was to be called a “Chitzoni” – a person concerned with externalities. Becoming a “P’nimi”, was the goal of all of our greatest leaders and teachers.

Hidden far from the eyes of the world, Hashem addresses Moshe as “you” – ואתה תצוה – and “you should command them.” It’s a conversation in the second-person; a direct, face-to-face relationship. This Shabbos we get a glimpse of the private life of the greatest Jew who ever lived.

Rav Kook (שמונה קבצים – קובץ ז’ קסב-קסד) writes that there are revealed Tzadikim, and hidden Tzadikim. But the greatest Tzadikim are those who live in both worlds at the same time. They are revealed and hidden simultaneously.

This Shabbos, we witness Moshe rising to such greatness. For Moshe Rabbeinu, there was no difference in being written in the Torah, or being left out – nothing could change his profound relationship with Hashem, even when he was in public, he never ceased living with p’nimiyus.

Next Shabbos, we return to business as usual. Moshe will once again be thrust into the center of the narrative. But for this moment, this small window in the Torah, Hashem is inviting us to remember the importance of Moshe’s private live, and of our own.

By omitting Moshe’s name, Hashem is asking us who we might be if no-one knew our name? Who are we when no one is around? Are we happy with ourselves? Or perhaps, Chas V’Shalom, the only things that remains private are the things which we are most ashamed of? Is our private life a place to fear and escape, or perhaps to celebrate and enjoy?

If indeed we have fallen prey to the Yetzer Hara of living externally, if we have turned ourselves inside-out, this Shabbos is the moment to begin changing. Parshas Tetzaveh is inviting us to choose to do something great, anything great, and to ensure that we tell no one about it. To do something worthwhile and valuable with the only audience being Hashem. Avoid taking the picture. Do it and don’t tell a soul. Don't post it to social media. Start building your private life; a refuge of personal positivity, a secret hideaway from the insanity.

Welcome to the unspoken world of Moshe Rabbeinu, the world of p’nimiyus.