Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Rivka Press Schwartz

Legend has it that there are 36 hidden tzaddikim in whose merit the world continues. Lamed-vav is 36 in gematria. Lamed-vav-nik is one such person. I know an actual lamed-vav-nik. I know that might sound like a surprising thing to say, for a number of reasons, but I do. She is gruff, and outspoken, and doesn’t come across as warm and fuzzy. But she has more respect for the basic dignity of every person, for the tzelem Elokim in every human being, than anyone I have ever met. Once, I was in a supermarket with her. I said, “thank you” to the checkout clerk – and probably felt that I had been very mentschlich. She spoke with the clerk in a way that made clear that she knew him as a person, and was aware of what was going on in his life. I do hachnasat orchim by inviting friends and community members into my home – she looks out for the welfare of a man she knows who lives on the street, and has invited him into her home on cold nights. I think about her example and share it with my students all the time. True kavod habriyot is not about treating well those whom we know, or like, or feel comfortable with. It is about honoring the bit of the Divine inside every human being we encounter.


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Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz is associate principal at SAR High School and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.