Vatranus vs. Apathy


rav shachBy Yaacov Weiss

Being “mevater,” giving in, the hot topic of this year’s Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s Tisha B’av presentation needs to be distinguished from apathy if one wishes to rise to the level of a true mevater.  Often, I find these 2 are confused as they really appear quite similar. An apathetic person doesn’t stand up for themselves, is passive and indifferent to the circumstances around them and so is a mevater.  Yet, an apathetic person is generally considered on the lowest level of psychological hierarchy (often suicidal or close to it), whereas the psychological equivalent of a healthy mevater would be all the way up there at possibly the highest levels (sainthood). So what is the difference? The difference lies in the motivation.

An apathetic person is reactive because he or she has low self-esteem, doesn’t believe in themselves or their ability to take control of any situation.  They just go with the flow without a sense of direction. They don’t know how to stand up for themselves nor do they believe they are worthy of being stood up for. They lack backbone, lack assertiveness and don’t feel worthy. When they give in, it is due to a lack of self-control.

A mevater on the other hand understands that the only thing he or she can control is themselves- their thoughts, words and actions and nothing else. They epitomize self-control. And it is through this wielding of self-control that they rise to a challenging situation and powerfully proclaim “I give in”.  They surrender all outside circumstance to Hashem, realizing it is beyond their control and then challenge themselves through self-control to react to each situation that is handed to them, in the most optimal manner possible. They choose be mevater because they make a calculation and decide that it is the best approach to take in the specific situation they are in. And if for whatever reason, it is not the best approach; their fallback position is assertiveness.

In the speeches, Rabbi Shapiro mentioned that Rav Shach proclaimed that in his entire life, he never saw someone who was mevater and loss out because of it. Yet, the very same Rav Shach was extremely forceful and outspoken when it came to things or people he thought were undermining the mesorah, as he understood it.  This is not a contradiction. A true vatran is an extremely assertive person who chooses when to be mevater and when not to.

If you cannot be assertive, then you are really apathetic- don’t mistake it for vatranus. If after giving in you feel taken advantage of or find yourself saying “why do I always have to give in?” then you are not really being a vatran, you are being apathetic. In my opinion, you are best off learning how to first become assertive before you jump to rationalizing yourself as a vatran.

Yaacov Weiss is a Life Coach and Business Coach  who services the Frum community. He can be reached at

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  1. This is just how I felt after the videos. Dr. Lieberman touched on it the last few minutes of his speech. This is a very common misconception. Also, there are those that are apathetic that criticize those with healthy assertiveness, under the assumption that they are not being mevater.
    Your article brought up very important points. Yasher Koach!