Anyone who has ever attended summer camp knows how emotionally charged and special the Grand Sing is. After three days of Color War activities, skits, plays and songs, the entire camp gathers together. They sing all of the Color War songs, especially the ‘alma mater’, a song that nostalgically recounts the highlights of camp and emotionally depicts the sadness of leaving the friends of camp behind as everyone heads home.
Before the Grand Sing, all campers are requested to change into white shirts out of respect for the climactic night. A few years ago, on the night of the Grand Sing, all the campers arrived at supper already clad in their white shirts – a meatball and spaghetti supper. It was a very beautiful and memorable Grand Sing. The singing was passionate and the campers looked perfect for the occasion with their special themed costumes atop their meatball sauce-stained white shirts.
It reminded me of my own experience at home. For several years, I had the zechus to give a class about tefillah to the women of our shul on Wednesday evenings. Every Wednesday night we had a meat dish with sauce for supper (spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, etc.), and every Wednesday night I had to change my shirt after supper before heading out to deliver the shiur. No matter how careful I was, there was no escaping it. Even if I managed to keep my shirt clean while I was eating, invariably one of my children would use my shirt as a napkin.
The truth is that 99 percent of my shirt could have been perfectly clean, but we all know that our eyes are immediately drawn to the splotch or stain. That’s the way we are. We immediately notice the imperfections.
When I was a school social worker in years past, in my office I had a black folding table that I used when I met with students. On the table there was a small hole in the fabric that was covered with a black piece of tape. It was almost imperceptible unless you were sitting right in front of it. But virtually every student – and adult – who sat at the table began to fiddle with the tape while we were talking.
If that’s the way we are with regard to externalities, we are all the more critical when it comes to people’s natures and behaviors. We have a lot of opinions about other people and we are fairly confident we understand why they are that way. We need to be aware of the fact that we are always quicker to find the small stain and hole than we are to notice the virtues.
The Navi states (Yeshayah 1:18) that even if our souls are completely sullied like crimson – which is far worse than meatball sauce – Hashem assures us that we can become pristine like snow and white wool. Fortunately, Hashem doesn’t only see the stains, but views us wholesomely and sees the virtue and greatness within us that even we may not appreciate.
The Ba’al Shem Tov revealed to us that the more we seek to see the good in others and view them holistically, the more Hashem will see us in that same light. The less we look at the meatball stains the more we will notice the beautiful white shirt underneath.