We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Look for an opportunity to do provide a manageable amount of help to someone.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Do Not Belittle Anyone אל תהי בז לכל אדם
Al T'Hi Buz L'Chol Adam
Perek Daled, Mishna Gimmel
Story: (based on a true story)
It was my oldest daughter’s eighth grade year, and that meant high school search time. We researched and asked and talked to everyone who knew anything, and one school kept on being mentioned to us and really sounded like it would be a good fit for our daughter. So, while we applied to several schools, Shifra was most anxious about this first choice school. She spent two days picking out an outfit before the interview, and off we went to meet the principal.
We got to the school and found they were running late. As we sat outside the office waiting, I saw a familiar looking woman talking to the secretary. Shifra noticed my glance and asked, "Do you know Mrs. Davidson? She was so amazing at the open house. She gave the main shiur when you were at that mother's thing, and she was completely mind blowing. I heard she's one of the best teachers here, but you don't get her until tenth grade."
I looked again. Yes, I did know her. She was wearing a short shaitel now instead of the long highlighted hair I was used to, but it was definitely Talia Kramer from my high school class. Talia, who often left for the bathroom in the middle of Navi class and didn’t come back. Talia, who was frequently seen wearing the office loaner skirt because hers wasn’t long enough. Talia, who was an active member of the chessed club but rarely an active participant in her Judaic education. In general, I didn’t have much to do with her, nor did I want to.
We studied together for a chumash final once. She had missed almost a week of class because of the flu and asked me to help her catch up. It was a surprising night for me. I expected to have to really push her to go through the work, but she was pretty driven. She was good with the concepts, even the complicated and really thoughtful ones. What she wasn’t good with was Hebrew, and she seemed kind of ashamed of it.
She worked really hard that night, and I felt like we had connected while discussing the personal applications of some of the concepts covered. But, she was never interested in studying with me again, and I think I fell back into thinking of her as a slacker. A year later, we had graduated and were off to very different types of seminaries. I vaguely remembered her deciding to stay in Israel for college at Bar Ilan. And, now, here she was.
Shifra was called in for the individual part of her interview, and after greeting the principal, I went over to Talia to catch up. She recognized me, and together we remembered the late night of studying and a couple of grade-wide occurrences from school. I didn’t really know what to say after that: I couldn’t very well say, “Congratulations on being here-I never thought you would be.”
Talia seemed to understand my predicament. She explained that seminary was eye-opening and nurturing for her, helping her to connect to the Torah despite her weak Hebrew skills without making her feel stupid. She had also connected with Eretz Yisrael, and had stayed on for a second year and then as a madricha in her seminary while she went to college. Eventually she began to teach there, and she moved back to the US a few years into her marriage and continued her career.
“I know people judged me in high school,” she said, “and I guess with the way I acted it’s hard to blame them. Sometimes I felt like people would put me in a certain box. The fact that I was struggling with tzni'us didn’t mean I couldn’t work on a food drive. And, my being not so good at and maybe less serious about limudai kodesh didn’t mean that I was an idiot or not a worthy person. I really appreciated your taking the time to study with me for that final; you took me seriously.”
It was now clear why Talia Kramer was the famed Mrs. Davidson, educator extraordinaire. She knew what it was to struggle, academically, socially and religiously, and she knew the value of motivation, support and respect. I hoped Shifra would have her as a teacher, and Talia said she would try to put in a good word for her at the school.
I realized that I had seen hints of this in high school, and now wished I had spent more time with her, or at least said a cheerful hello every morning. Not just because she might one day be my daughter’s teacher, but because who she was then was worth knowing and respecting.
"הוא היה אומר: אל תהי בז לכל אדם...שאין לך אדם שאין לו שעה..."
"Hu haya omer: Al t'hi buz l'chol adam...she'ain lo adam she'ain lo sha'a... "
"He (Ben Azzai) used to say, Do not belittle anyone...for there is no man who does not have his time... ." (Perek Daled, Mishna Gimmel).
Rashi and R’ Ovadia of Bartenura interpret this mishna as teaching that someone who is powerless and harmless today may in the future gain power and then possibly cause harm or refuse one’s request for aid. To forestall that possibility, we must not treat anyone disrespectfully. However, most commentators explain the initial phrase to mean, “Do not belittle anyone, since you do not know what he will achieve in the future. For instance, Yosef’s brothers mocked him: “Let us see what shall become of his dreams” (B'raishis 37:20). But in the end, it was Yosef who saved them and their families from famine.
Chasid Ya'avetz and Rabbainu Yona explain this mishna as telling us that we should never be dismissive of anyone even if we never see anything in him that we consider worthy or admirable, and if he never rises above his lowly status.
HaShem created the world in order to ultimately reveal his glory. Everything plays a role in that final revelation. Even if we cannot see where some particular individual fits into that cosmic scheme, HaShem knows exactly how each element contributes to the whole. Every being has a role in that ultimate achievement.
Additionally, teaches the Midrash Shmuel, even the simplest Jew is overflowing with good deeds. As our sages state, “Even the empty Jews are as filled with mitzvos as a pomegranate is filled with seeds” (B'rachos 57a; Eruvin 19a). Even if we notice nothing special about a person, everyone has done something good, demonstrated some kindness, and refrained from some misdeed-“there is no man who does not have his time.”
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What types of people do we often discount or belittle?
What causes us to discount people who are different from us?
How can we remind ourselves to respect all people?
Stretch of the Week:
Say hello to someone you rarely pay attention to, and think of something positive about them.