Last week’s stretch of the week was: Identify an area where your particular efforts are needed, and then act on it.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Before we discuss how we should act toward others, we must first discuss how we should think of them. It is not sufficient to merely show respect on the outside; we must truly feel that level of respect from within. We can learn this lesson from the incredible words of the Chayai Adam regarding the mitzva of kibbud av va’aim , honoring your father and mother (k'lal 67). He writes that the essence of the obligation of honoring one’s parents lies in one’s heart. HaShem does not want us to merely put on a good show; He wants us to truly be people who think and feel in the elevated way of the Torah.
On a practical level, when someone doles out kavod superficially, it can be discerned by the recipients. Furthermore, every interaction we have with another person hinges on our attitude towards him. It’s impossible that one who simply acts like he has respect will properly fulfill his obligation of kavod. He will invariably slight others all the time without ever realizing it.
Certainly, the more self-kavod we have, the more we can respect others. If we are small and insignificant, then those around us can’t be that much greater. If, however, we realize how so very important we are as Jews charged with a sacred mission, then we know how important the others around us are as well. Each Jew is beloved by HaShem, despite any shortcomings he may have because of his tzelem Elokim, he was created in HaShem’s image. This alone is more than worthy of respect.
The Rambam writes that we should talk to others softly, with sweet and appeasing words. Even if we have a worthwhile disagreement, we must be extremely careful to talk respectfully. Imagine if this person was someone of great stature in the eyes of others, such as a famous Torah scholar or a governor. Would you still raise your voice at him? Whoever you are talking to is of great stature in the eyes of HaShem.
How we talk to someone clearly conveys to him how we must respect him as a person. We don’t talk to someone we admire in the same way we talk to someone we look down upon: even our tone of voice is different.
Often, we may be rude and disrespectful without even realizing. For example, interrupting someone in mid-sentence shows that we do not value or have interest in what he has to say. Rav Moshe Don Kestenbaum finds it touching when someone calls to speak to him and instead of immediately lapsing into conversation, he first asks, “Is now a good time for you?” This shows we are in touch with and respect his needs.
(Reproduced from Run After the Right Kavod by Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum, with permission of the author and copyright holders, Israel Bookshop Publications).
Story: (based on a true story)
My shopping cart was full as I turned the last corner to the checkout aisles. I was talking to my mom on my cell phone as I shopped, and as I started emptying my cart I murmured a quick hello to the man checking out my groceries and went back to my conversation. My mother heard me and asked me what was up, and when I told her, I got an earful.
“Get off the phone!” she commanded me. “You can call me back later. There’s a human being on the other side of that checkout counter and you’re treating him like furniture.”
I shut the phone and continued loading my groceries onto the belt, and I looked around. Out of six aisles, four of the people checking out were on the phone. The cashiers didn’t really seem to mind. They just scanned the groceries and the baggers packed them. This was today’s world, right? I would be getting off the phone from now on because my mother told me to, but I kind of resented it.
Later that week when I drove my regular afternoon carpool, I dropped off my friend Deborah’s son at their house as usual. Deborah always came out to the car to greet her son and walk him in, and even though I only got to see her for a minute, sometimes it was the only time I saw her all week and she was the only adult I saw until my husband came home later that night. We usually exchanged a quick “Hi! How crazy was your day today? Mine too.”
That day, Deborah came to the car to get her son with her head hunched to the side, her phone tucked between her ear and her shoulder. She waved to me quickly, smiled at her son and took his hand, and continued what sounded like an attempt to reach a doctor as they walked away.
I went home feeling empty. It seemed stupid; I had no idea that it was so important to me to exchange those few words with her and have that human contact, that genuine inquiry into how I was doing. Because I knew Deborah, I knew that this call must have been a big deal or she wouldn’t have stayed on the phone. She always went out of her way to greet and talk to others, she was the only mother who came out to meet her child at carpool, and she said hi to everyone else in the car. I even got a phone call from her later that night apologizing for being on the phone when she came out earlier.
I wondered what it must be like to have people walking by you with their carts every day, all day, giving just a half-hearted ‘hello’. What’s it like when the only interaction is telling them “That’ll be $54.50” and “Sign here” because they’re on the phone and don’t even answer you back? What does it do to your soul?
I’m a believer now. I say hello to the checkout person and bagger and ask about their day or how they’re managing the weather, and really want to know the answer. I greet my bank teller and gas station attendant and hope they’re not too cold or standing too long. And, I get off the phone. It’s not just something I have to do because my mother told me to. I’m a full grown adult who realizes that no matter what is happening in the world, respect for others doesn’t go out of style. We are all HaShem’s creations, which I can reflect on and internalize when I stop to think about it. And the thing that distinguishes us from animals is speech, so I will use it correctly.
Discussion Question Options:
How and why do daily, routine interactions sometimes degenerate into a lack of respect?
In what ways can our inner, non-genuine feelings toward others translate into superficial interactions?
How can we use the idea of each person being a tzelem Elokim, made in the image of G-d, to inject respect into our daily interactions in a practical way?
Stretch of the Week:
Think about and interact with someone you see regularly but don’t usually acknowledge.