We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Choose one person and ask how they are doing. Then, really listen as they answer.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #17
כבוד - KA’VODE--HONOR
PART 2 – Respecting All People, even when we find them difficult to respect
Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, a disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter and the founder of the Yeshiva of Kelm, taught about the need to respect others. Rav Zelig Pliskin brings Rabbi Ziv’s words in his book, Consulting the Wise: “The proper Torah ideal is to show respect to every human being. Even if someone is of lowly stature or has many faults, the Torah still requires us to be respectful toward him. All the more so must we be respectful towards an elevated person.”
How can a person show respect to someone whom he knows he should respect, but for whom he doesn’t feel an inner sense of respect? Rav Ziv continues: “Think of someone for whom you would naturally feel great respect. Make a picture in your mind how you would talk and actually behave in a similar manner when you want to show respect for someone whom the Torah wants you to respect.”
Rabbi Pliskin explains this idea further in his book, Kindness: Do you really want to learn how to treat another person with great respect? Then learn from business people and fundraisers. Watch how they treat their wealthiest clients. Listen to how they speak. Observe what they do to give this person the royal treatment. Then, model these patterns with each person you encounter. Impossible to do?
Then at least do this with some people some of the time. Start with individuals who are least likely to be treated this way by others. You never know. The very one whom you feel could never do anything at all for you might be a person who will transform your life. Today, he is penniless; at some point in the future, he might be wealthy. Today, he does not have clout; one day, he might be in a position to save your life. And, even if he never has any money or is never able to do anything for you in the material sense, spiritually, he elevates you. Your personal honor is based on the honor you show others—Ayzehu m’chubad? HaMechabed es habri’ose—‘Who is respected? He who respects others’ (Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Father, 4:1). Treating others with disrespect or contempt diminishes you; treating others with honor and respect elevates you.
(Excerpts from Kindness and Consulting the Wise by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin)
Story: (based on a true story)
A few weeks ago I was on line in my town’s pizza shop picking up dinner when I noticed the group of young women in back of me. Was that Chana? And Cheryl? And Sarah was there too. These girls had been in my oldest daughter’s class in high school, a community school where each grade consisted of one small class. And what a class it was. The cliques had apparently started in middle school, and, by the time we moved into town and Ahava started ninth grade, my fairly reserved daughter barely had a chance. It didn’t help that our family was more observant than the majority of the class. Ahava, with her quiet nature, did not flaunt or try to impose her religiosity on others. But, nevertheless, she was different, and, as such, she was not included by her classmates, sometimes pointedly so. She spent the first two years crying in her room when she thought I couldn’t hear her, and the next year working double time so she could graduate early and move on to seminary and the next phase of her life.
These girls behind me were the “in” crowd that had run the whole class.
The girls noticed me just after I noticed them. “Hi, Mrs. Schoenfeld!” Cheryl said brightly. “Long time no see. How’s Ahava? I don’t remember where she is.”
“She’s doing well,” I answered as evenly as possible, trying to keep the old hurt from showing on my face. “She spent a year and a half in seminary, and now she’s in New York working and going to school. She comes home for vacations sometimes.”
“Cool. Tell her I say ‘hi!’”, Cheryl responded, still chipper.
“Um, Okay. I will, I guess,” I stuttered, turning away and abruptly ending the conversation even though she looked like she had more to say. “That was weird,” I heard her say to one of the other girls, but I kept my head forward so my hurt wouldn’t show.
Cheryl says ‘hi’? That would be a first. And, did I want to remind my daughter about these girls she had worked so hard to escape?
Within five minutes, I had reached the front of the line and paid for my food. As I left, I said a quick goodbye to the girls and moved on. A few steps from the door, it registered that Cheryl had a wary look on her face as I left. Obviously she had noticed my hesitation at passing on her greeting--had I also insulted her by ending the conversation abruptly? Had the old hurt shone on my face?
In the car home, I berated myself. Cheryl had been nice. Maybe she had forgotten what high school had been like for Ahava; maybe she’d never really known. And now she might have negative thoughts toward her and toward me, long after school had ended.
I also knew that this wasn’t all about Ahava. It was about me and not just about having watched my daughter be miserable. Ahava had not been the only one excluded; the majority of the mothers in town excluded me as well. I was also quiet, also new, and also more observant than a lot of my peers. After years of living in town, life was better and more balanced for me, and I now had a variety of friends, though it did not include the mothers from that class. The last thing I needed was to open up old wounds again.
My skeptical attitude and lingering negativity had caused me not to treat Cheryl with enough respect and that needed to change. I needed to alter my mindset, to leave behind my negative thoughts and focus on more positive ones. If I wanted to leave a good impression after meeting someone, to build the relationship and show them that I had a positive experience, what would I do?
After dinner, I wrote an e-mail to Cheryl’s mother telling her how great it was to see her daughter. I continued with how impressed I was with her general demeanor and friendliness. As I wrote it, I found that it was all true and I hoped it would bring peace.
I expected a timely response, but after a few days, I still had not received a reply. I decided to call and leave a phone message that was similar to my e-mail. A week later, and I still had not heard anything. I was nervous, very nervous and getting annoyed. I had reached out, and nobody was reaching back. Would all the negativity from years ago coming rushing back? I eventually calmed myself down; maybe they were busy; maybe there was a problem in their house. I added them to my davening, asking for help with whatever challenges they might be facing. And, then I let it go.
The next day, I got an e-mail back. The mother thanked me for the e-mail and the call, letting me know how much it meant to her that I felt her daughter was doing so well and that I’d reached out to tell her.
Nothing obviously dramatic changed. Cheryl’s mother and I are not friends who regularly get together or even e-mail much, and I rarely see Cheryl herself, but something in me has changed. I have more respect for Cheryl’s family and for the women of my community in general. I see them as people I can connect to, as fellow daughters of HaShem who are just trying to raise our families the best we can in our small Jewish community.
Discussion Question Options:
How do we benefit when we honor and respect others?
Is it false to treat a person we may view negatively the same as we would treat someone we value more? How can it create positivity?
How does the idea of our personal honor being based on the honor we show others apply on a group level? And, how does it apply on a national level, for Am Yisrael?
Stretch of the Week:
Show an extra gesture of respect to someone to whom you otherwise wouldn’t.