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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Ohr Naava’

Ahavas Yisroel and Compassion for Fellow Jews

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

It is hard to imagine someone else’s pain and react as if we really understand. My first job as a rav was in a nursing home, where I learned powerful lessons on how to react compassionately to the needs of others. Every Erev Shabbos, a woman came to spend the afternoon with her mother, who was suffering the devastating impact of dementia. Upon seeing her daughter, the mother would ask who it was. The daughter would patiently answer, “It’s me, your daughter, Sarah.” The mother’s eyes lit up and she would say, “Sarah, you made my day.” Sarah would spend 15 minutes telling her mother humorous stories about her grandchildren, when abruptly her mother would ask, “Who are you?” Her daughter would once again say, “It’s me, your daughter, Sarah,” and her mother would again beam with delight at seeing her daughter. The cycle continued for long periods of time. When one of the nurses asked Sarah how she had the patience to continue with this charade for so long, Sarah said it was her pleasure to be able to give her mother so many “first time” visits in one afternoon. “Besides,” she continued, “can you imagine how hard it must be to live in her state of mind; the least I can do is temporarily end her confusion and bring some happiness into her life.” As frustrating as it must have been for Sarah, sacrificing for others means understanding their needs and mustering the resources to help provide a solution.

We grow from our responses to difficult situations. When we make the proper decisions and use our potential to help others, we fulfill our purpose in this world. Esther was also known as Hadassah, as the verse tells us (Esther 2:7) “And he reared Hadassah, she is Esther.” The name Hadassah comes from the myrtle plant Hadas, which has an olive color similar to Esther’s complexion. The hadas plant is used by many as the besamim, spices, for Havdalah, as it has a beautiful sweet fragrance. This unique smell can only be released from the myrtle when it is squeezed hard and crushed. This symbolically represents Esther’s inner strength which emerged when she was being crushed by the pressure of Haman’s plans and the risking of her life to save Klal Yisroel.

We often hesitate to respond and react when we see others in trouble, in order to avoid the accompanying pressure and stress. The greatness of a Jew, however, is in being able to see others in difficult situations and respond by feeling their plight – and not remaining silent. The Talmud (Sotah 11a) tells us that Pharaoh had three advisers: Yisro, Iyov (Job) and Bilaam. Although Iyov did not want Pharaoh to destroy the Jewish people, he remained silent and neglected to voice his opposition to the plan. Perhaps he had a good reason for doing so; perhaps he was waiting for a more opportune time to intervene. Nevertheless, some say that he was punished for his silence because if he really felt their pain he should have screamed. I cry out in pain if someone steps on my foot; I should also cry out in pain if someone steps on my friend’s foot.

There are many possible reactions we can have to the many situations or little tests that occur over the course of a day. Each scenario is a nisayon, or test, that presents us with an opportunity to make choices and achieve growth. There are three levels of responses that could occur.

We could act out of habit or rote, without thinking, a response that generally does not allow us the opportunity to infuse meaning into our interpersonal interactions. For example, the feeling that so many are left with when we ask, “How are you doing?” and move on without waiting for a response, leaving the other party with the feeling that we don’t really care. Instead, we should give a warm and personal greeting and wait for a response to our caring inquiries.

Or we could do what we are supposed to be doing, but without the zerizus, alacrity, and exuberance.

However, the third and highest level of motivation occurs when the action is performed with a palpable level of excitement, enjoyment and meaning. For example, the same basic greeting will be performed at this level when we meet our future daughter-in-law for the first time.

This choice of “meaningfulness of response” can be seen each time we have the opportunity to do an act for others that requires our time or resources. Chazal tell us that we can increase the level of the mitzvah of charity by giving with a smile or warm comment, instead of simply, silently handing over the money. Many people in need of financial assistance would prefer receiving a little less while being treated with warmth and respect.

Being the Best, Being Me

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

I am the best! You are the best too! There were over 600,000 neshamos at Har Sinai, and each one was different. In order to be inspired to grow we must sense the best in ourselves; in order to be a mentch we must see the best in others.

Success for every person is different because every individual is a world unto himself. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 37a tells us, “ Man was created alone in order to teach that destroying one life is tantamount to destroying an entire world, and sustaining one life is tantamount to sustaining an entire world.” When we recognize that each person is special, unique and a world unto himself, then we have helped “create” his world.  An empowering teacher and parent makes each child feel like he is “the best,” special and unique in his own way, even among many classmates or siblings.

Our schools and families have become dens of competition, whereby we use “cookie cutter” techniques in an attempt to generate success, instead of nurturing the child based on what makes him unique and special. Every child must feel that his parent loves him the most and every student must feel that as well. We honor the child who is smart and gets good grades. Oftentimes, however, the children with poor grades deserve equal or more praise. The child who is naturally bright and gets straight A’s feels good about school and learning because he is good at it; he receives the accolades and is honored as valedictorian. How about the child who is not academically gifted and would naturally get a 40% on his test, yet he exerts himself and earns a 60%… gets tutored and puts forth supernatural effort and gets an 80%? Does he not deserve an award and our praise for his accomplishments? If he stretched himself and expended his greatest effort to earn that 80, shouldn’t he earn that same recognition? I believe that in the eyes of Hashem, he too is valedictorian; shouldn’t we feel the same?

During a recent visit to a school, I noticed the bulletin boards in the hallway proudly displaying row after row of tests with marks of 100%. What message does that give to the child who tried his hardest and earned an 80%?  Maybe he deserves at least the same or more praise as the bright child who achieved 100% with minimal effort? When a teacher returns the marked tests, congratulating the children who earned high grades, while allowing the students to see the low grades of others as the tests are passed to the students, he has “created” the world of the high achievers while destroying the world of those who did not numerically succeed.

We learn this important lesson from Nachshon ben Aminadav. He is eternally respected for jumping into the Sea, resulting in its splitting. According to the Midrash, the Red Sea was predestined to split from the time of its creation. Even though it was destined to split on its own, Nachshon, unaware of the destiny of the Red Sea, gets credit for splitting it. Let us ask ourselves—had 12 people demonstrated bravery by jumping into the sea, would they have also received the same level of acclaim? The answer is yes, a lesson that is also taught by Nachson. When Nachshon and every other Nasi brought korbanos, the Torah lists each and every one of korbanos, even though they were all essentially the same. The Torah is conveying the lesson that each person can achieve personal greatness, even if many individuals are doing the same good deed. Each person brings his own intentions, thoughts, and personal challenges to the situation, and the same act, regardless of how many times it has been achieved by others, is a meaningful accomplishment for each person who does it. When a child comes home from school with a 95%, his success should be celebrated regardless of his class rank and how many other students achieved that score—because he is special! The Rambam teaches in Hilchos Teshuvah (5:2) that each of us can be as righteous as Moshe Rabbeinu, our greatest leader! Righteousness is developed by overcoming the challenges we encounter in life; in our own unique ways, we can achieve personal greatness.

An individual, with his infinite value, has the capability of sustaining the entire world by refining his character and actions. The ego concept of “Bishvili nivra ha’olam,” that “the world was created for me,” is only half the truth. The world was also created for everyone else and we should try to make others feel that the world revolves around them as well. When I make a bracha on a piece of fruit, I could enhance the experience by thinking how special it was that Hashem made this beautiful fruit for me. Even better–if I cut the fruit in half and share it with you, allowing my special world and your unique world merge for one special moment. Eating an apple gives one enjoyment for a few minutes; sharing it with others creates an eternal chesed. Greatness isn’t “having” more; it means making other feel like more. Every child should feel that he is “the best,” with the security of knowing that it is okay if everyone else is also “the best.” I was once privileged to drive Rav Elya Svei zt”l home from a Torah U’Mesorah convention, planning to sleep in a motel after bringing him home. After dropping off his bags at 5:00 a.m. I headed back to my car. He asked me to wait, and the elderly Torah giant prepared a bed for me and insisted that I sleep over.  More than 20 years later, I still feel the warmth of the bed and the breakfast that he later prepared for me. Greatness is giving to others in a way that makes them feel special.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/being-the-best-being-me/2012/01/26/

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