I'm struggling with the balance between being nice and being a doormat. Just yesterday, I allowed someone to intimidate me into not wearing a kippah in public. Afterwards, I felt bad and vowed to be tougher. I sure was. That night, I got upset at someone for doing something that wasn't even his fault.


The challenge of being flexible without being bent to the ground is something we all face in daily life. The sages of the Talmud teach that a person should be "flexible like a reed and not brittle like a cedar."1 And yet, they also draw many red lines beyond which one must not bend. So flexibility must be flexible as well.

The first thing you need to do in order to accomplish that feat is to put yourself out of the picture. If it's about yourself, your own ego-defense mechanisms will subterfuge the attempt. But if it's about what's right and what's wrong, that same decision becomes a cinch.

In most cases, we have a compass, the Torah, to point exactly to what's right and what's not. At other times when the issue may be more gray, you need to talk it over with a rabbi or spiritual mentor.

This approach takes integrity. It requires that you have values and standards that are unshakable. But once that's in place, you can get clear answers for each situation.

For example: You're sitting with friends and someone starts insulting or gossiping about someone who's not present. Make a little comment to put and end to it, or walk away from the conversation. You have the guts to do that, because you know this is wrong.

On the other hand, let's say you turn up to the cafeteria a minute late and someone is sitting in your seat? So big deal, there are lots of seats. Life goes on no matter which one you sit in.

Someone pressuring you to put aside a Jewish practice? Stand up for who you are. A relative spills coffee on your tablecloth? There's the washing machine.

There's something else about this approach: Over time, it will earn you the respect of others. When those around you see that it's not about your ego , but about what is right and wrong, then they will also have a clear idea of your boundaries and respect them. Eventually, there won't be a need to stand up for yourself—everyone will already know where you stand. And they will likely also want to stand that way too.