Last week’s stretch of the week was: Go out of the way for a neighbor by doing something extra or letting something go.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
A Good Heart
לב טובLaiv Tov
Perek Bais, Mishna Yud Gimmel Part 3
Story: (based on a true story)
Do you know any perfect people? I know a few. I don’t mean that they’re really perfect; clearly no one is, and these people I know not only have faults but are happy to admit them and ask your advice or thoughts. These people strike me as perfect because they are just so nice, seemingly always. You just feel comfortable with them.
These perfect people always have a kind word for someone, whether it’s a compliment, an acknowledgement or a commiseration. They never a bad word about or for anyone, and never a negative judgment, at least out loud. And I really do believe that their outsides reflect their insides. It’s not necessarily that they don’t do battle internally; it’s that they seem to have figured out and nailed the idea that having a positive, giving and loving perspective on life and the people in it smoothes the path toward being a good person, the person HaShem wants each of us to be.
I don’t have this yet. I’m working on it, but there’s definitely more work to be done. I know this for many reasons. Here’s one.
I got a new occupational therapist for my son Shmueli this summer. Within a couple of weeks of really good and creative work, Malki loved Shmueli and he loved her, and I had a nice rapport with her too. Then, a few more weeks in, while I was having a really hard day, I found out that there was a scheduling glitch that might cost Shmueli some time off his sessions. I became worried that he wasn’t getting the time he needed and that we were paying for, so I asked Malki about it. She apologized and said, “Don’t worry-I always keep track of my session times with the children I see. We’ll make up what we lost.” But that wasn’t enough for me. I pressed her for details and specific scheduling, and repeatedly expressed my dismay about having lost time and having had my schedule changed on me.
By the time I made it home five minutes later, I knew what I had done wrong. Yes, a mother has to stand up for her child and what he needs and should know what’s going on, but my mini-tirade wasn’t about my son. It was about me: what I needed, and wanted, and deserved, and had to know. I never stopped to think about anyone else, and how my doubting and micro-managing Malki would make her feel. I didn’t think about whether it was OK to imply blame when I kvetched about the wrongness of people changing schedules on me.
Before the next session, I apologized for how I spoke, and she thanked me for it and accepted it while saying she understood that we all have those days. But something had changed. At each session, she was still great with Shmueli but when she spoke to me, something in her eyes was different. I never asked her about it, but I know that it was not so much that I did not act correctly, but that I revealed a lack of caring. I put myself and my feelings before hers and treated her lowly. I doubted her integrity. It’s very hard to come back from that. She tried, but the eyes showed me.
My “perfect” friends would not have done this; I know because they’ve been in similar situations and haven’t. They might make other mistakes, but their internal feelings about the goodness of others prevented the words and insinuations, even as they got what they needed for their children.
So I’m working on it even more now. I need to stop myself when I feel the negativity coming and think, “This is a person, not just someone who I need something from. This person is HaShem’s creation, and has a special neshama. I need to slow down and look for the good, and see her needs and give her the respect she deserves.” If I can do this, I will have a clearer and more patient mind, which is good for me too, so I can be a person who sees the world and the people in it more positively.
So that’s my new goal for perspective: It’s not all about me, each person is HaShem’s creation, give the benefit of the doubt and respect. These are my mental steps toward a more perfect me, to a nice me. Because HaShem is the ultimate giver of caring and understanding, the more I internalize those traits, the more I fulfill my potential from being created in His image.
"אמר להם: צאו וראו איזו היא דרך טובה שידבק בה האדם...רבי אלעזר אומר: לב טוב"...
"Omar lahem: Tz’u u’r’u aizo hi derech tova sheyidbak bah ha’adam…Rabi Elazar omer, laiv tov.…".
"He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them (his students): “Go out and see which is the proper path to which a person should cling...” Rabi Elazar says, “A good heart”...."(Perek Bais, Yud Gimmel).
Shlomo HaMelech states, “Guard your heart against every [thought of evil], because the paths of life come from it” (Mishlai 4:23). When a person has a good heart, he views others beneficently, he loves and is beloved, his character is pleasant, his bearing is mild, his thinking is healthy, and his deeds are pleasing.
Rabbainu Yona sees the “good heart” as the perfection of the trait of humility, which is associated with patience, following which a person’s other traits will improve as well. The parallel passage in Avos D’Rabbi Nosson (1:5) speaks in greater detail of “a good heart in regard to heaven and a good heart in regard to human beings.” This, states Rabbainu Yona, means that a person accepts gladly all that he receives from G-d and man. Patience flows naturally from humility, for, since such a person does not feel that he can demand anything from others, he never harbors a grudge.
Perhaps the simplest interpretation of a good heart is a willingness to adapt oneself and yield to the needs and concerns of others. In fact, the Jewish people are compared to a supple reed (Ta’anis 20a) because of our characteristic flexibility and willingness to yield on matters of personal pride rather than be unnecessarily rigid.
Despite the difficulties in attaining the trait of a good heart, the potential for such an achievement is enjoyed by every Jew. Unfortunately, we are not always aware of our enormous potential. The liturgist who composed the Yom Kippur confessional prayers aptly describes this innate but often hidden capacity as “ta’alumos halaiv”, the hidden heart.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
How does our general demeanor affect our daily interactions, including how we react and how others react to us?
“Patience flows naturally from humility”. What does this mean, and how does it manifest in our lives?
What are some techniques for increasing our caring for others?
Stretch of the Week:
In an interaction with another person, focus on that person and what they need.