Friday, December 16, 2011

Pressing Business


Parshat VaYeshev
20 Kislev, 5772
December 16th, 2011

Among our most important teachers in rabbinical school were Ignacio Ojeda and his staff, who ran the kitchen and the cafeteria. My guess is that they were conscious of their role as unofficial professors, and their part in turning aspiring rabbis, educators, undergrads, et al. in actual human beings, even if they never outright said it.

Their coursework was simplicity itself: how to be kind to people, even when working hard. They taught by example.

Coming into our cafeteria meant being greeted with a smile and by name, questions about your family, and, in my case, constant teasing because you weren’t married yet.*

I cannot overestimate how important those brief moments of kindness were. They took a relationship which had the single, paltry virtue of being functional, and raised it into a gift. It was a privilege to walk into their dining hall.

The Talmud teaches in the name of Rabbi Helbo, who in turn heard it from Rav Huna, that if you know a person will regularly greet you, you should greet that person first. Not to do so is to be called a thief. Brakhot 6b

To paraphrase the Mesillat Yesharim, you don’t need me to tell you that these words are true; everyone knows to be polite. But the truth of kind greeting is so obvious that it is easily set aside. Therefore let us reminds ourselves of what we already know.

Sometimes we assume that familiarity absolves us of the need for niceties. Sometimes we believe that the business we have before us takes precedence over personal connection. These conceits are very seductive, very convincing – we have known each other for years, we have important matters to which we must attend. These conceits are wrong.

Remember that everyone, literally everybody, needs to be seen for more than their function. Remember that with kindness, everything is forgivable, without it, little is acceptable. Remember that, in a spiritual community, there is no more pressing business than kind connection.

*Please do not follow their example!

1 comment:

  1. I loved it. Shalom. Good Morning and thank you very much. It is so true......