Her voice was as beautiful as it was surprising. Seeing her triumph over the critics was exhilarating. But in the middle of her performance I started to wonder what would have happened if Susan Boyle had been mediocre or even downright awful?I will comment later on this, in disagreement, but first Josephs notes further, in what could easily be taken straight out of Messilat Yesharim (a classic 18th century Jewish work of ethics), and with which I agree completely, that
She would have been jeered and booed by the live audience and probably laughed at by many viewers watching from home. Most of us would have never heard her name, unless of course she shtank so badly that the video of her singing went viral for the sole purpose of ridiculing her.
So why was she spared from the meanness? Why was she an inspiration instead of a humiliation? Because she had been granted a beautiful voice. I'm sure she worked on it and honed that voice over the years, but a lovely voice, just like beauty, intelligence, and wit are all God-given.
When we are complimented for possessing qualities such as these, society tells us to say "thank you," but in truth, we should say "thank God". (We are so trained to take credit for such attributes, can you imagine how obnoxious a woman would sound if upon being told she was beautiful she responded with "thank God"?!)
Susan Boyle's inner qualities - honesty, generosity, compassion are unknown to us and have no real value when it comes to reality television. But for our own realities, we should consider two things: if we call ourselves Susan Boyle champions would we have taken perverse pleasure had she failed? We must also be sure to differentiate which of our own attributes are mere gifts and which are the ones we are responsible for improving.
Being awed by beauty that God put in the world is a wonderful thing, but actively working to create a beauty within yourself is nothing short of Godly.
In this latter quote, I think two distinct points are made by Ms. Josephs, and I think both are completely true, and bear repeating:
1) Every trait we are blessed with, we should be thanking G-d for; we cannot take pride in them, any more than a bird can take pride in the fact that it can fly (as Messilat Yesharim notes);
2) Honesty, integrity, and an ethical character are the true things to take pride in. As Jeremiah said (9:22f; courtesy of Mechon Mamre),
Thus saith the LORD: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD who exercise mercy, justice, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.I once saw Rabbi Joseph Telushkin make the crucial point that whereas we praise and congratulate and reward our children for good grades in school, and the opposite the poor academic performance, really, a parent ought to praise, congratulate, and reward for good character. As Rabbi Telushkin continues, most of us acknowledge that we'd rather have moral and upstanding children who don't perform well academically, than we'd have immoral children who do well. The problem, however, he says, is that in practice, we don't show our children these values when we heap praise or rebuke on them.
Dr. Benjamin Carson, in his autobiography Gifted Hands, presents, inter alia, the most profound example of humility ever written, I believe. Everything Messilat Yesharim says on this, he lives, and more. He crucially notes that whereas we certainly cannot take pride in our natural gifts, since we played no role in being born with them, nevertheless, he says, we are obligated to use these gifts and perfect them as much as possible. He says he knows he's great; he has fantastic surgical skills that few others have. However, he says, G-d gave all this to him as a responsibility; were he to not use his skill to its fully extent, he'd be shirking his responsibility.
Thus, says Dr. Carson, he can take no glory over his secretary or his garbage-man; without them, he'd never be able to perform his surgery. Everyone, he says, was created by G-d for some purpose, with some abilities to that end, and no one may take any glory. If you do everything you can, you are merely fulfilling your responsibility the way you were expected to. Who can take on airs for this? If the Talmud hadn't said it, Dr. Carson would have: (Berachot 17a, according to the Soncino translation; courtesy of Come and Hear):
A favourite saying of the Rabbis of Jabneh was: I [viz. the Torah scholar, the great rabbi] am God's creature and my fellow [the lowly farmer] is God's creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the country. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. Just as he does not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do his work. Will you say, I do much and he does little? We have learnt: One may do much or one may do little; it is all one, provided he directs his heart to heaven.
But with point Josephs's first point, I wish to argue. Her argument seems to be that while Boyle was vindicated from judgment of her appearance, her vindication was only due to her singing voice; had she not been blessed with a singing voice, the scathing and cruel criticism of her appearance would have remained. However, we must realize, this *was* a singing contest; vindication by her singing voice is not so morally scathing. As the critics have noted, this initial judgment by appearance was entirely improper; this was a singing contest, not a beauty one.
On the other hand, all the people who go on singing contests and do horribly, to some extent, they do deserve ridicule. What does one expect to receive from the judges, other than ridicule?
Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying it is moral to ridicule others; certainly this is a moral vice arising from defects within one's own personal character, to take any joy in another's failings. But to some extent, if a person has a horrible singing voice, and he or she enters a singing contest, much of the ridicule is almost self-inflicted. I for example have a horrible singing voice, and I also don't know anything about art or physics. So if I entered an art-knowledge or physics competition, what should I expect but ridicule?
So while she is correct that we should be judging based primarily on honesty and integrity, and that we shouldn't grant overmuch consideration to G-d-given traits which we cannot claim to have earned by dint of personal effort, nevertheless, I will say that to some extent, to judge a person's singing voice at a singing competition is fine.
The problem then, here, was really the judging her appearance. This was entirely unwarranted. She shouldn't have been judged at all by her appearance. But after the fact, for her to be vindicated by her voice is entirely warranted, I believe. Similarly, if a person entered a physics competition and was ridiculed for her appearance, but then her physics contribution was brilliant, should not this serve to completely vindicate her from the criticism she ought not have received in the first place? But if her contribution is a disaster, then she will properly receive criticism for this, but again, she should not receive any criticism whatsoever for her appearance.