In a world populated by more than 7 billion, we are constantly in contact with people around us. Every day we have interaction with others. Imagine the following:
You are walking with the kids in a theme park, or supermarket. Someone comes in the other direction, clearly not looking where he/she is going. Their face is towards the floor, as they by mistake step on your child’s foot pushing them to the ground. How do you react?
Scream out at them “watch where they are going!”
Or, move away concentrating on the crying child without saying anything to the passer by?
Let me share with you a fascinating story I heard recently that might help us understand what kind of perspective we should have in these scenarios.
The Golden Age of Spain produced some magnificent Jewish scholars. One of these was the great sage, Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1167).
The Ibn Ezra lived a tough life and was poverty stricken. He was known to travel the world (even visiting England!). Once on his travels, he came across a synagogue that was looking for a Rabbi. The pay was extremely high at twenty gold coins a month and the Ibn Ezra thought it was a blessing sent from heaven. Happy to share his knowledge, he immediately applied for the job.
As he came in for the interview the people looked at the poorly dressed sage and without even listening to a word he had to say, immediately told him that he was in the wrong place.
Perhaps there was a shop in the market that was looking for someone of his calibre, but they were searching for a respectable rabbi, well dressed and well presented.
The Ibn Ezra decided that he would teach this community an important lesson.
He left and went to the other side of town to the market. There he frequented a local simple Jewish grocer – Shimon.
Although simple, Shimon was a smart well-presented figure. He came across commanding and his radiant beard caught the Ibn Ezra’s eyes from afar.
The Ibn Ezra approached Shimon and asked if he would like to earn ten gold coins a month.
“Wow, are you sure that’s possible” replied Shimon. “I only get 2 a month from all my hard work.” He said.
The Ibn Ezra assured him it was possible and told him the deal.
“All you have to do is become the Rabbi of the community on the other side of town.”
Shimon was startled, but I barely know how to read Hebrew! That’s impossible.” He replied.
“Don’t worry, leave it to me, you will be the Rabbi and I will be your spokesman. We will split the monthly wage in two. All you have to do is enter the synagogue make a motion with your hands and nod. Then when they ask you a question, I will pretend to ask you and will reply on your behalf”.
Shimon understood and happily agreed.
They entered the synagogue and the Ibn Ezra introduced this man as a special Rabbi, well-presented, filled with knowledge and understanding, capable of leading the community.
People all rose in front of Shimon and eventually once seated, they asked him some questions.
Each time the Ibn Ezra would pretend to listen to Shimon for the answer and give over what he had heard to the crowd. Of course all the time it was really the Ibn Ezra himself who was answering all their questions.
Impressed, they immediately accepted this new Rabbi to lead them.
Every day the ‘Rabbi’ would walk in accompanied by his ‘disciple’ who would listen to the Rabbi’s words and tell them over to the community.
The community started to get word of the man’s greatness and knowledge and the synagogue was soon packed.
After a few months the community leader approached the Ibn Ezra;
“The community is deeply grateful to have found such a wonderful Rabbi, but the time has come for us to hear from him directly. Please ask him to start to speak to us in person!”
The Ibn Ezra agreed and told him that the Rabbi would start to speak to the community at a big gathering next week.
That night the Ibn Ezra went back to Shimon and said – next week you are going to speak to the entire community. You need to know what to say. Let me help you.
If someone asks you “My Tefilin has fallen, what should I do?” Then you answer “Kiss the Tefilin and fast or give some money to Tsedaka”.
Shimon found this hard, he was not used to the wording, but after a day of practice managed to learn the words off by heart.
The next day the Ibn Ezra said to him a few more potential questions. “I forgot to count the Sefirat Haomer for a whole day, what should I do?” then answer “Count the Sefira without a Beracha.”
Shimon learnt the answers and the day finally came to speak in front of the community.
A large crowd gathered to hear the words of the famous Rabbi. The Ibn Ezra was nowhere to be seen.
The first person asked the Rabbi about the Sefirat Hamoer.
Shimon not understanding remembered the first answer the Ibn Ezra taught him and replied, “Kiss the Tefilin and fast or give some money to Tsedaka”.
Everyone was bewildered. What’s Tefilin got to do with the Sefira?!
They continued to ask him questions, it didn’t take them long to realise that this man was an imposter and the real ‘Rabbi’ was the Ibn Ezra himself.
The Ibn Ezra had taught them one of the most important lessons in life – don’t judge a book by its cover.
“Rabbi Meir said, do not look at the flask but what is in it. There are new flasks filled with old wine and old flasks which do not even contain new wine.” (Pirkei Avot 4:27)
Appearances can be deceiving, but it’s up to us to always entertain every scenario. It is our duty not to act with immediate judgement. Rather we must evaluate every situation carefully entertaining all possibilities and only then come to a good call.
Imagine if in the case mentioned at the beginning of the article above, the person who had hit your child, had just lost a close relative.
Imagine that you were informed of this just before he stepped on your child’s foot.
Now everything changes. We wouldn’t jump out and shout at the other person; rather we would reflect and act accordingly.
Perhaps they were clumsy and should have looked where they were going, but perhaps they weren’t clumsy and just had a tough day, or suffer from blindness. Before we react we should try and entertain situations.
In this weeks Parsha Aharon suffers the loss of two of his four sons.
They were trying to serve G-d, yet never came out of the newly sanctified Mishkan alive.
How sad and upset must he have felt. Yet Aharon teaches us to first think before reacting. Vayidom Aharon, he is silent. He accepts G-d’s judgement.
As we enter the third week of the Sefirat Haomer, let’s concentrate on unity, judging others favourably and entertaining all options before coming to decisions.