I am Ofek Ohayon from Tiberias. A few days ago I saw a sign with the words “Advertise here.” I knew that this was meant for businesses but I called the number on the sign nevertheless. I asked how much it was to advertise and they wanted a commitment of at least three months. I said that would be too expensive for me since I am only nineteen and all I have are the savings from my restaurant job… so they agreed to display my message for one month at the cost of 1,000 shekels.
The result is a message that everyone sees at a major intersection in Tiberias. It comes from David Yehuda Yitzhak, the soldier who was killed in Jenin. Even without knowing him, I was deeply impressed by his character. The words on the sign, authored by David, are as follows: ‘Be good, simply good, without noise or fanfare, without making a big deal out of it, just be good.’ I don’t know where this idea of mine came from, but when I see the sign, my heart skips a beat. Now all that remains to be done is to internalize this message.”
Love Before Criticism
Once at the start of the school year, Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, the head of a yeshiva, was asked by one of his teachers to berate a student. “I have not yet shown him enough love to say something critical,” the rabbi responded.
This message contains an important truth: Criticism is appropriately given out of concern based on closeness and love. Only where a deep connection with someone already exists is it fitting to register our disapproval.
This is exactly what Moshe Rabbeinu teaches us in the book of Devarim that we begin to read this week. He critiques the nation about to enter the Promised Land, yet shows respect and love for his people in the process – not from a stance of “I’ll show them” but from a desire to direct and perfect them, to raise them up to what they can truly be.
Regarding children’s education, marriage, and all of our relationships with others: Before we criticize, we would do well to ask: What is our motive? Have we given enough love to justify our disapproval?
The Power Of A Smile
Here is some practical advice regarding our current period of mourning as we approach Tisha B’Av. Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, who passed away 37 years ago today, explains that our self-improvement and self-rectification are in the details.
“As we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem, we need to address the reasons that it occurred: divisiveness and baseless hatred.
Having a pleasant facial expression when greeting another person is an unrivaled form of lovingkindness. An encouraging smile has enormous power, far more than material assistance.
A cheerful countenance – this is what I am obligated to display at all times since each person deserves it. A sad countenance is likely to cause pain to others.
I am obligated to be cheerful not only to those who come to my home. Even when I am walking down the street, I must make sure that my face shines with a smile. Toward whom? Toward passersby, people I don’t know; it is essential that they see a smile on my face.
All of this is not an unrealistic aspiration, but something that can be applied in the here and now. Initially, we can make this happen with members of our household and then extend our warm and cheerful disposition outward to others, to break down the barriers of divisiveness and baseless hatred once and for all.”
The Educational Principles Of Rabbi Amital
The following three educational principles were articulated by Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who passed away thirteen years ago. He was a Holocaust survivor, head of the Har Etzion Yeshiva, a government minister, and a teacher of thousands:
1.”One of the central problems in education is that parents demand behaviors from their children that they do not practice themselves. When parents serve as personal examples to their children, that is true education. When parents’ expectations of their children do not match their own behaviors, they come across as insincere and are ignored.”
- “We must regard the study of Torah as we once did, as a matter of hard work and dedication. The brain with its intellectual prowess is the most important and powerful part of the body. Do we confine our spiritual life to the physical realm? We take a shofar in our hands and blow it with our mouths, we put tefillin on our arms and heads, matzot are digested in our stomachs. Do we allow our brains alone to be neglected in our worship of God? Is the brain meant only for a career or an academic degree, while we delegate our divine service to the remaining parts of the body?”
- “Positioning the individual in the center of the universe brings about freedom from obligation. Individualism and absolute freedom are incompatible with obligation — to our nation, society, families, and marriage partners. It is as if the individual stands up and declares: ‘I do not have any obligations. Everything I do is not because I have to do it, but because I want to do it.’ This is a destructive mindset. One of the biggest educational challenges of our time is instilling a sense of obligation.”
At a time when we tend to demand less, this is a clarion call to demand more.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.