In my previous column I noted how the great sage Hillel, when asked to teach the entire Torah in the time it took for a man to stand on one leg, stated without hesitation that people should not do to others what they wouldn’t want done to them – and that the rest was commentary on that point.
Interestingly, it would appear that Hillel, the ultimate talmid chacham of his era, felt the Torah did not revolve around the mitzvot between G-d and man; rather with this simple statement, he declared that the Torah’s focus was about being a mentsch. The message of the Torah was to take care that our interactions with others were done with integrity and consideration; that we give that which we would want to receive, and not cause additional hardship and sorry to our fellow man through actions and activities that we would not want inflicted on ourselves. Perhaps Hillel came to this conclusion, rather than the obvious one that the Torah was based on the mitzvot dealing with man and G-d because humans are made b’zelem Elohkim – in G-d image. By being respectful to our fellow man, we show our respect for G-d; by being honorable, we honor G-d.
Now there are obvious behaviors or actions that you know are harmful, like stealing or murdering. Since you don’t want to be killed, it’s easy to figure out that your neighbor doesn’t want to be either.
But it would seem there are actions that people are doing – or not doing – that are harmful and hurtful; and assuming they are not rashas who take delight in causing others pain, loss and torment, we can only conclude that the perpetuators are truly unaware of the consequences of their activities. I say this based on the reality that there an obvious lack of shalom bayis and achdut between spouses, family members, friends, colleagues and communities, and in fact an epidemic of angry, hurt, resentful, depressed and bitter people. It is obvious that people are unwittingly doing to others – what they would not want done to themselves.
And I believe the reason for this is because they are clueless; because they do not have the sensitivity and thoughtfulness that would help them to mentally “walk” in the other person’s shoes and with the insight gleaned, modify their behavior and actions.
The following scenario is based on reality, give or take the minor details. A 28-year-old single girl flies in for her younger cousin’s wedding. She has taken off work – she is a health professional – and re-arranged her schedule to be part of the simcha. At the wedding, she is seated with cousins whose ages range from 10 to 17 years old. The married cousins her age have their own table. In a similar scenario, she is put at a table with middle-aged divorcees or elderly widows – the “singles” table.
Had the baalei simcha taken a moment to “walk” in her shoes, they would have realized how hurtful their actions were. No doubt, if they too had gone to considerable effort and expense to be at a family function, and were for example served noodles when everyone else was given steak (” Hey, we ran out and we are sure you wouldn’t mind, after all you’re family”) they too would have been offended and humiliated.
Many widows/mothers of sons bemoan the fact that none of their neighbors offer to take their sons to shul Friday night. They walk right by their home. The mothers, looking at their fatherless children, can’t help be embarrassed and in emotional pain as they are reminded of their unfortunate situation. I’m sure the devout men on the way to shul have no idea the torment their lack of consideration is causing to their neighbor; nonetheless their actions – or lack of them – undermine their Torah lifestyle, based on Hillel’s statement of what Torah is all about.
There are people who are treated in a non- Torahdik way – in a way those dealing with them would not want to be treated – because they are either unmarried, poor, uneducated, gullible, too young, too old, physically or mentally challenged, ugly etc. – or because they are too successful, too pretty or too trusting etc. In other words everyone can be a victim of bad, unethical or spiteful behavior that can harm them emotionally, physically or financially.
To truly be a Torah-abiding Jew, as prescribed by Hillel, people must try to see life through the other person’s eyes. Most people are not deliberately mean or negligent or selfish. They just have to get into the habit of being thoughtful – to take a moment and think of how your words or actions will affect the intended recipient.
Who thought Torah could be so easy?