We are here to improve our relationships with others
in order to transform the Jewish people in these urgent times.
Last week’s Stretch of the Week: Greet one person warmly who you normally might not greet in this manner.
(Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute).
Say Little And Do Much--Emor M’at Va’a’say Harbay
In Pirkay Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers) it says: “Shammai omer: … emor m’at va’asay harbay…” “Shammai says: …say little and do much...” (6:15).
Some people speak about themselves at length, giving the impression that they are accomplishing a great deal, when in truth, their deeds may be paltry and few. Judaism teaches us to “speak little and do much”.
Abraham, father of the Jewish people, epitomized this ability. When the three angels came to his tent disguised as Arab travelers, Abraham ran to greet them with the simple words, “I will take a loaf of bread and you shall sustain your heart, and then you may travel onward” (Beraishis 18:5), but he then rushed to prepare them an elaborate meal.
Ya’avetz teaches us that saying little and doing much is a natural consequence of one’s awareness of how limited one is in comparison to the great expectations that HaShem (G-d) has of us. As much as such a person accomplishes, he feels that he has not done enough. Therefore, Shammai states, “Say little”. No matter how much you have accomplished, view it as a mere fraction of what is expected of you; this will bring you to “do much".
Our Sages state “a person who says that he will rise early and learn Torah” or makes similar comments “has made a serious vow before the G-d of Israel” (Nedarim 8a). If, for whatever reason, he does not fulfill that vow, he transgresses a commandment in the Torah. Shammai advises us to say little, since “it is better that you do not vow than that you vow but not fulfill” (Koheles 5:4).
This is true not only with HaShem but with others as well. If a person commits to an act, or even leads his friend to believe that he will do an act, and then does not fulfill it, he becomes untrustworthy in his friend’s eyes. A person who is known as a “doer” is more highly regarded than one who is “mostly talk,” and will be given many more opportunities to help others.
(Largely reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Story: (based on a true story)
I have a medical problem called Crohn's Disease that causes sudden, debilitating flare-ups. Managing a family with small children under such circumstances is challenging, to say the least. During especially trying times, I rely heavily on the support of my community and some amazing friends. Rose, one of my closest friends, has told me that whenever I am sick and need help with meals, I should always call her first.
One Thursday morning I was ill and the thought of making food for Shabbos (Jewish Sabbath) was overwhelming. I called Rose and asked her for help. She very kindly told me that she was extremely busy that week, and wasn't sure she could make me a whole Shabbos meal, but I could count on her for soup and challah. I thanked her profusely, telling her that hopefully by Friday morning I would feel well enough to make chicken and potatoes myself, my husband would help with side dishes and we'd be set.
On Thursday night Rose arrived with the soup and challah, along with chicken, vegetables, fish and dessert! She told me she wound up having extra time, and simply made more of everything her family was having. On the phone she was afraid to promise me an entire Shabbos meal in case she didn't have time to make it, but in the end she did and it all worked out.
Rose was so happy to help, and the relief she gave me was immense. I found that her way of doing it so quietly and modestly felt special. She was going to do a little bit, and ended up doing so much.
This reminded me of another situation that revolved around Shabbos food. In my community we have several close family friends that get together periodically to celebrate someone's birthday or to share a holiday meal. We all pitch in to cook for the meal, dividing the courses and making dishes to serve. Just prior to one of these occasions, I had been having a hard month but didn’t consider myself especially ill. I chose to make the first course, challah and salads.
I put a lot of effort into the challahs, but by the time I had gotten around to preparing the salads, I had lost energy and it showed. I brought them over to the hosts’ house before Shabbos began. The hostess was already in charge of the main course but, without saying a word, she prepared some fun extra salads and two nice fish loaves to round out the first course.
I was so thankful that my friend had quietly and thoughtfully made up for whatever lacked in the first course so that no one would be the wiser. I knew by the way she hugged me when I had first delivered the food that she understood how I was feeling. What she had done so with so few words, was done out of pure love.
Discussion Question Options:
Give examples in which we might "do little, but say a lot". How can we correct this?
Under what circumstances might we make a commitment we're not sure we will keep? How can we increase our awareness of this so we won't make this mistake?
What sort of people are doers and what types are not? How can we become better doers?
Stretch of the Week:
Do something this week where you deliberately "say little but do much".