First Impressions are Lasting Impressions!
“And there, with us, was a Hebrew youth, a slave of the Captain of the Guard…”. (41:12)
Whether it’s a job interview or a first date, first impressions are always important. This is also true in the courtroom.
At his September 2007 arraignment on murder charges, Kenneth Kline sported a Mohawk hairstyle, a mustache, a black T-shirt and jeans. He personified arrogance and defiance. When Kline appeared at his Berks County murder trial 14 months later, his hair was short and even, his mustache and brash attitude were gone, and his attire was stylish suits and ties. That’s because his attorney knew that the appearance of a client can sway a jury. (Dressing Defendants for Success in the Courtroom by Kevin Amerman)
Pharaoh awoke after having dreamed two disturbing dreams. All his wise men were unable to interpret the dreams to his satisfaction. Seeing Pharaoh’s agitation, the butler spoke up. He told Pharaoh that while he was in jail, he, too, had a troubling dream which was correctly interpreted by a Jewish youth. Perhaps that Jewish youth could also interpret Pharaoh’s dream. The butler told Pharaoh, “And there, with us, was a Hebrew youth, a slave of the Captain of the Guard…”. Rashi comments on the words that the butler used to convey his message. Rashi says, “Cursed be the wicked for the favors they do are never really complete! The butler mentions Yosef in disparaging language. ‘A youth’ – A fool, not fit for greatness. ‘A Hebrew’ – He doesn’t even know our language. ‘A slave’ – It is written in the laws of Egypt that a slave may neither become a ruler nor dress in princely robes”.
Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk, a posek in Gateshead (in his sefer Shailos Uteshovos Machaze Eliyahu, as quoted by sefer Yalkut Lekach Tov by Yaakov Yisroel Beyfus), is baffled by the actions of the butler. He questioned how the butler could be so daring as to lie to Pharaoh. How could the butler say that Yosef was an incapable fool when he knew firsthand that Yosef was very wise and very capable? How would Pharaoh react when he realized how the butler had lied? Rabbi Falk gives a very insightful answer. The butler never actually said that Yosef was a fool. He merely said that Yosef was a youth, a Hebrew, and a slave, which were all true. However, the inference of the word youth, is that the person is a fool [Remember that Yosef was not a youngster. He was already an adult. Clearly referring to him as youth was inferring something negative about him]. The inference of the descriptive that someone was a slave was that he was not educated. Thus, the butler protected himself by saying truthful words. However, the usage of his words gave the listener the impression that Yosef was uneducated and incapable. The evil butler purposely gave the false impression that Yosef did not deserve to have his status elevated by interpreting Pharaoh’s dream.
Our first impression of a person stays with us. Thus, even after Pharaoh would see how wise Yosef really was, he would still believe, in his heart, that Yosef was a fool. This was the plan of the evil butler.
Our first impression of people becomes deeply engraved in our hearts and is very hard to uproot. This is one of the terrible harms caused by loshon hara, slanderous speech. Even after a person defends himself and proves that what was said about him is untrue, the original impression of him remains. Sefer Tehillim (Book of Psalms) compares the words of loshon hara to hot coals of broom – wood that remain burning for a long time. The Midrash (Braishis 98:19) brings a story of this type of coal burning for a full year! The Alshich illustrates the long-term damage of loshon hara with an example. Someone once lied and said that a certain person was lazy. The person showed no trait of laziness. In fact, the opposite was true. He actually was very industrious! Yet, if he would slacken in his efforts and appear lazy even one time ten years later, people would remember the lies and think that he was a lazy person. The thought that had been lying dormant for years would re-surface in peoples’ mind as if he actually was lazy. This is the terrible result of loshon hara.
We must always strive to make a good impression of ourselves. We also must be careful when speaking, not to create a bad impression of others. First impressions can be “lasting impressions”.