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: Find a way to help someone while still giving them space.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Don't Look At A Pitcher But At What It Contains
אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו
Al Tistakel BaKankan, Ella B'ma Sheyaysh Bo
Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Zayin
Story: (based on a true story)
I walked into my daughter Suri’s second grade classroom on back to school night to see a baby at the teacher’s desk. OK, not a baby, but someone who looked like she just got off the plane from seminary and couldn’t be bringing more than her student-teaching experience along with her.
This was not going to work. My Suri was a great girl, but she had a bit of spirit in her and a different way of picking up the material that had made the year before challenging. I had specifically asked for Mrs. Feldman, a veteran at the school, but here I was sitting in a tiny chair staring up at Miss Chavi Silverstein, who I had never heard of much less met and who was currently babbling an introduction in front of us.
She spoke about alternative learning strategies and using simcha and movement, all of which sounded nice and pre-school-like but not structured enough for a second grader like my Suri. As soon as she was finished I headed straight for the office and waited my turn for the principal. Within ten minutes I was telling her that while she had reassured me that Miss Silverstein would be great for Suri, I still felt she needed someone less flighty and with more experience. This was far from my first child, and I knew some things. The principal just said that Miss Silverstein had some really useful tools for working with kids like Suri.
I watched closely for the next couple of months. I figured that if after giving it time Suri floundered again as she had with her touchy-feely teacher last year, the principal would have to listen. Granted, Suri loved school, but who wouldn’t in a classroom full of fun? But I was the one who was surprised.
On Rosh Hashana she read through her d'var Torah at the table without stopping in frustration at the words she couldn’t read; instead she tried to sound it out and then pointed for me to help. On Succos she gave an animated description of how to grow an esrog tree and informed us that her Morah would be giving her her own plant later in the year. And weeks later, she sat on the living room floor and moved carefully built lego towers back and forth as she recited basic math problems under her breath and jotted down answers on her homework sheet. Suri was also responding well to the class discipline structure, which I knew little about.
At our first parent teacher conference, I walked in with an open mind. Miss Silverstein was thrilled with Suri but also set out some concrete goals for her and let me know how I could reinforce her progress at home. She told me about her experience helping her mother prepare materials for her first grade class for many years and about her younger sister who never could seem to learn just sitting at a desk. She also mentioned the techniques she learned at the special student teaching position she had requested in seminary, at the BA program she had completed, and at her last job, all of which I had discounted at the Open House as “too new”.
Clearly, Miss Silverstein knew how to teach my daughter. I now had a happy child who was learning, which is the best combination I know. And clearly she was not just off the plane with no knowledge or experience. I had judged her by her youth and her lack of a wedding ring, and was so glad that the principal had forced me to give her a chance.
I was glad I had controlled myself and not spoken negatively about this teacher. Even at the beginning, I might tell my friends that I had my heart set on the school veteran teacher but had gotten a new one and hoped for the best, even when in my heart I didn’t believe I would get it. Now, I made sure to tell anyone who asked about the wonderful new second grade teacher who had a lot to give.
"רבי מאיר אומר: אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו..."
"Rabi Meir omer: Al tistakel bakankan, ella b'ma sheyaysh bo..."
"Rabi Meir says: Don't look at a pitcher but at what it contains..."(Perek Daled, Mishna Chaf Zayin).
Rabi Meir states that a person’s wisdom cannot be gauged by his age. One cannot judge a book by his cover. Wisdom depends principally upon a person’s spirit, and the degree to which he works on developing his soul.
The fathers of the Chassidic movement tell us that this mishna teaches the need to look at a Jew’s soul and not his superficial manifestations. “Do not look at a pitcher”-do not judge a person on the basis of his deeds, not even his sins. “But what it contains”-bear in mind always that the soul of every Jew is a Divine portion from above, to which filth cannot attach itself. One cannot despair of any Jew, including oneself. The inner spark is never dimmed. It need merely be blown into a flame that will burn of itself.
Midrash Shmuel explains that this mishna means to inspire us to refrain from exaggerated focus on physicality. “Do not look at the pitcher but what it contains”; do not make your body your primary area of concern, but your soul.
And, continues the mishna, the proof that the pitcher’s external appearance is unimportant is that “there can be a new pitcher that contains old wine, and one that does not even contain new wine." Just as the pitcher’s age and appearance have no influence upon the quality of the wine, so also the quality of a person’s physical life has no influence upon his spiritual stature.
(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:
On what criteria do we often judge people before we get to know them? Are any of these criteria valid? Why or why not?
Have you ever judged someone based on what they were wearing and later been surprised?
How can we help ourselves to look beyond the outside to see what is inside?
Stretch of the Week:
Look deeper to get to know someone who looks, acts or dresses differently than yo