Last week’s stretch of the week was: Think about and interact with someone you see regularly but don’t usually acknowledge.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
The Torah (Vayikra 19:18) obligate us: “You should love your friend like yourself." The question begs to be asked: How can the Torah expect us to reach such a high level?
When we think about loving someone else, we tend to think of someone who is extremely fond of another person’s personality. This is not the true ahava the Torah is talking about. The Kotzker Rebbe teaches us that love for someone is not measured in terms of what we gain from him, but rather how much we care about him. The more we care about him, the more we are willing to give.
The perfect example of this love is the love a parent has for his child. One might not be too crazy over his child’s personality, but he nonetheless loves his child with an intense love. Usually, because of that love, the parent tends to find the good in his child’s personality, but that is certainly not the source of this love.
Now we can understand the expectation of loving your neighbor like yourself. True, we may not find everyone’s personality all that charming or compatible with our own, but we can still be expected to worry and care about their well-being. Even if we don’t naturally have these feelings of concern for others, we can choose to care.
“All Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavuos 39a). If we feel this responsibility for others, we automatically will begin to care about them. We can all work toward this kind of love, which will ultimately bring us to like others’ personalities as well. When a person takes someone under his wing, he feels closer to him and therefore sees him in a better light. He is considered like a brother, for the Jewish people are one big family.
(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)
The Feldman’s Shabbos table was always a great place to be. I found myself there often as a single, observant young professional living in a town without any of my family. They always made me feel at home.
One Shabbos, I found myself seated next to Leah, the oldest daughter of the family. She was just back from her seminary year and was looking for a fulfilling job in the mornings while she attended school at night. I had a couple of ideas for her, and after I extended a general offer we began talking about where each of us had gone to school and where I was from.
Quickly, though, I noticed that she shut down on me. I found that every time I tried to start a conversation with her about any topic, she answered me in one or two word phrases and then turned herself to a conversation elsewhere. Eventually I gave up and turned to talk to my favorite buddy, Yudi Feldman, age 7. If Leah didn’t want the help of the only person at the table who was even close to her age and stage, or even to speak to me, that was her issue.
Three weeks later, I got a call from Mrs. Feldman. Leah had not found a job and remembered that I had offered to call a friend of mine at a local office for her. Leah wanted to speak to me about it and had asked for my phone number or email.
I was very surprised to hear that Leah was interested in anything I had to say or offer. Mrs. Feldman heard my silence and told me she had noticed that Leah had been pretty cold to me at the meal. She had been surprised, since from what she knew Leah and I actually had a lot in common in terms of interests and career goals, but figured Leah must not have been feeling well. I agreed to help her out.
Leah called and we spoke for a bit about what she was looking for. Before agreeing to make the call for her, I decided to gently ask about that Shabbos meal and why she changed her mind about accepting my help. She answered hesitatingly.
“It was clear that we were really different people,” she said. “I could just tell that we are in different circles based on where we went to school and how we dress, and I thought that your ideas might not be right for me. But then, when I didn’t find anything, I thought I might as well try to check out your suggestions on my own.”
I knew in that instant that I would not be calling my friend for Leah. Not only had she discarded anything I might have to say based on what I wore and where I went to school, but she had stopped talking to me altogether. I didn’t expect her to automatically accept everything I had to say. Everyone has their own preferences and needs, both religiously and personality-wise, and it was fine with me if none of my ideas worked for her. But if she didn’t want to pursue any of my leads, she could still have been polite.
Even better would be to open herself up to see who I was and what strengths I might have, to include me in the conversations she had with others, to treat me as a full-fledged person who deserved to be treated respectfully. There are few things that feel worse than being disregarded and ignored.
I could not recommend someone who judged and behaved like that to work in my friend’s office. I spent a minute deciding whether I wanted to help her at all or even talk to her again, so I decided to tell her that I suddenly had to go and would call her back. I was too upset to talk right then.
Later that night, I decided that I felt sad for Leah and her mindset. The best way to change her perspective and respect level for people who may be different from her was to be who I am, to treat her respectfully and help her out. While I didn’t think she was a match for my friend’s office, I did have an idea for a possible internship and provided her with the number and contact person. I also recommended a couple of courses she might enjoy. During the course of our conversation, she did seem to see that we had a lot in common, including a favorite teacher who gave classes in both of our seminaries.
I was glad that I helped Leah, both for her and for myself. We may have been raised a bit differently and walked in slightly different circles, and she has things she needs to work on, but I am still me: a person who cares about and helps others.
Discussion Question Options:
In what ways might we marginalize people who we feel are different from us or who we have a hard time tolerating? How can we raise our caring level for people who we might not see as our choice for friends?
What are some practical ways to ensure that we show basic respect to all people, regardless of their circles or quirks?
Are there times that we need to keep our distance or separate ourselves more from someone with a personality or attitude that is challenging? If so, how can we continue to respect and care about them?
Stretch of the Week:
Make an effort to talk pleasantly with someone you might not think you’d enjoy talking to.