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.