Monday, April 30, 2012

Lessons on Tzora'as

In this past weeks parsha, Tazria-Metzorah, we read about tzora'as and what happened when someone spoke lashon hara.I want to share the following lessons with you.

Tzora'as didn't start off on the skin. At first, it went onto the person's house, then their clothing and then their skin.

We see from this that Hashem has rachmanus on a person. When He wants to wake someone up to do teshuva, He starts with something a little further away. If the person doesn't take the message, then He will come with a message closer to home.

Wake up calls aren't easy. We are put into this world to become better people and improve our middos. Let us try to take messages to change for the better from things going on around us that are further away...because unfortunately nowadays there are plenty of messages we can take by looking at the things going on around us...before it gets closer to home.

We also see from this that externals are not so important. What matters is not a fancy house or clothes but how you elevate what you have and do mitzvos with them. 

It used to bother me (and it still does, to some extent) when I'd see mothers walking around looking like shlumps. It is no mitzvah to look like you just rolled out of bed and are having such a hard time coping with your little children. Yes, it's a challenge to take care of these little ones. But it's a gift. It's not always easy but which mother would ever give up any one of her children? Yes, it's tiring. Yes, it's a job-and many times it's a hard job. But at the same time, when you walk outside you need to look like a person.

I feel like it is a kiddush Hashem when a mother with little kids looks put together. People look. And people talk. Whether you like it or not people do pass judgement when they see you-and when they see someone who looks like she has it all going good and fine it is a simple kiddush Hashem. 

Some people think a kiddush Hashem is only around non-Jews but that's not true. Every person walking down the street is a representation of our nation. Jewish people are looking too-and when they see you, they should feel lucky to be part of a nation like ours, not embarrassed or ashamed.

I was recently in a kiddie gym in Lakewood. When I saw the way the entrance fee worked, I said to myself, only in Lakewood can you see something so nice. There was a little pushka kind of box right inside the room with a sign on it. I took a picture of the sign because I was so in awe when I saw it. It said: "If paying by credit card please put the credit card number, exp number, number of children that played, phone number and name on card in the box..." There was no one there collecting the money or checking if each person who came in paid. There was trust. Because we are all part of the Jewish nation. It made me feel so special and so lucky to be part of a nation like ours! And when I watched each of the parents come in and stick the right amount of money into the little pushka for their kids, it gave me that feeling all over again.

Who ever thought a kiddush Hashem could be that simple?

Yes, doing the right thing, dressing in a way that is respectable, walking outside with a cheerful demeanor...all these things make people look at Jewish people with a positive light. And that is how you can elevate externals to a higher level.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Thinking About Others

There's something called being a mentch. If you were asked to define that word to someone who doesn't know what it means, I'm not sure how you could describe it well. I think there are a lot of ingredients that go into the recipe of a person who is a mentch but one word that captures it well is: thoughtfulness. Thinking about another person.

My mother always taught us that when we go shopping, we should try not to bring shopping bags with a competitors store into that store. Now, this isn't always practical but we tried to do it a lot. Today, I had to make a return at a certain store. Instead of using shopping bags from a competing store, I took regular black bags and put my things inside. This way, I would be able to return those items without the owner of the store feeling bad-even for a second.

I was driving down the street and had to make a turn. I could have rushed before the pedestrian crossing the street would reach the middle of the street but I waited an extra second, waved and smiled as she crossed the street. The smile on her face only got bigger. For a millisecond, she felt important, like she came first. It was a non-Jew and it was a Kiddush Hashem. This has happened to me many times.

Sometimes it's the simple little things that go far. It's the small things that show that you are thinking of others that mean a lot.

We are now in the days of sefiras ha'omer and we are counting up towards receiving the Torah. The Torah is our guide. In it are the answers to all of our questions. And we know it says, "derech eretz kadma l'Torah". I haven't checked it up but the way I always learned it, the simple meaning of this is: before you learn all the deep intricacies of the pesukim (and Torah is very deep lemme tell you), you need to have derech eretz.

What is derech eretz?

In elementary school (and maybe also in high school if the class misbehaves a lot), the teachers preach about having respect, behaving properly and not acting out of line.

But I think it all boils down to that one word: thoughtfulness.

We need to focus on thinking about the other person, really thinking about what the other person needs, dislikes, what makes them uncomfortable and what makes them tick.

In elementary school, if the students are really thinking about the teacher standing in the front of the classroom, they would never dream of misbehaving. Here is someone who spent a lot of time and energy preparing a lesson that could be given over in the best and clearest way possible. How could they do anything but cooperate? (Because kids will be kids...and they aren't thinking along those lines.)

As a person grows up and matures, they learn to see things from the other person's perspective. But this takes work. A lot of work. Thinking about someone else means getting rid of your self, being less self-centered and trying to make other people's lives more pleasant. It can start with little things and it goes to bigger things.

As we count up to the days leading to receiving the most precious gift of all-the Torah, lets remember that before we can take it and call it our own, before we can accept it and follow it, we need to focus on this: being a mentch and being thoughtful. The one important thing that we need to concentrate on during this time is how we treat other people.

The reason why we do not listen to music during sefira (and keep to other halachos of aveilus) is because we are mourning the students of Rebbi Akiva who died during this time. The reason they died? Lo Nahagu Kavod Zeh Lazeh-they did not treat each other with respect. There you have it. Derech Eretz Kadmah L'Torah. During this time between Pesach and Shavuos is when we mourn their death-we need to remember as we prepare to receive the Torah that thoughtfulness, being a mentch, treating other people properly is a prerequisite to kaballas haTorah.

May you all be able to utilize this time before kaballas hatorah to the fullest, looking out for what other people need, enhancing your bein adam l'chaveiro so that you can accept the Torah with an open heart and keep to it always.