Are We Raising “Copycats”?

The entertainment world, especially on social media, is bent on enticing people to imitate others, anyone from celebrities to criminals to your “friends.” Most people eventually realize that copying others is no way to live.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier

The Satmar Rov, whose yahrzeit was this week, was once at a chasunah where the badchan asked his permission to imitate the Rov’s recital of hoshaanos. To everyone’s delight, the badchan did a fantastic job, capturing the Rov’s every move and even the sound of his voice. The Rov himself laughed at first but then began to cry.

The badchan immediately went over to beg forgiveness but the Rov assured him, “You didn’t make me cry. It’s just that when I saw that it’s possible for someone to mimic my actions perfectly, I began to wonder if perhaps I myself am only copying my own actions from previous performances of this mitzvah, and not doing it with true feeling.”

The entertainment world, especially on social media, is bent on enticing people to imitate others, anyone from celebrities to criminals to your “friends.” Most people eventually realize that copying others is no way to live.

In this week’s sedra, however, we’re actually commanded to mimic another’s behaviors. Chazal say that “You shall follow Hashem, your G-d” means to follow in His ways, e.g.: Clothe the needy, visit the sick, and comfort the bereaved.[1]

Shouldn’t we strive to be our true selves and not copy others?

During the height of the hippy movement, the Rebbe addressed the painful reality of the many Jewish youth who were leaving the path of Yiddishkeit, R”l. One of the reasons for this, the Rebbe explained, is because the only Jewishness they’re receiving from their parents is one of copy-cat. “You need to have a bar mitzvah just like so and so did.” They also observed how their parents were driven to do good things, such as giving charity, only because it would earn them prestige in certain crowds. These youth, said the Rebbe, don’t want to subscribe to a life of copying others; they want to learn to live for themselves.

“The only ‘copying’ a Jew should do,” noted the Rebbe, “is to copy the ways of Hashem. Why? Because this is actually not an act of copying, it’s merely acting on who the Jew truly is.”[2]

When parents teach their baby to copy their hand-clapping, are they teaching the child to be a copy-cat? No, they’re simply helping the child to develop into who they truly are. When parents live a life of Torah and mitzvos and teach their children to do the same, not because it’s what others do but because this is what Hashem does and wants us to do, then they’re helping their child to develop into the person they can be and are meant to be.

[1] Sotah 14a.

[2] 19th of Kislev 5728 (1967). 

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