Though I have been writing for the Standard only for 15 months, I have been writing this column for more than five years. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that this would happen — that people would read it, that I would still be writing it. Never. But what continues to amaze me is when certain people let me know that they read my column. For example, we were at a meal a few weeks ago and I asked one of the other guests why he was being so quiet and he responded, “because I don’t want to read about it next week.” I think he was joking when he said it, and I always (usually) ask permission before I write a column about things that were discussed.
Two weeks ago, this same person told me that he had read a piece written by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and that it would be a good topic for a column. I followed up. The kind individual sent me a copy of the d’var Torah, and, indeed, he was correct. Which was a good thing, because after writing more than 200 columns, sometimes I do need good suggestions. The other good thing was that my very religious sons were thrilled that I was reading something that wasn’t on Facebook…but that is for another column.
So this piece by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was titled “Lifting Heads,” and it was about the parsha Naso. From what I understood from this piece, the word “Naso” is a verb whose meaning is to “lift the head.” Now let’s keep in mind that the person who sent this to me is way smarter than I am (as are most people; he is also way thinner than I am, as are most people — sorry, you know I am all about the self-deprecating humor). He probably understood all of the historical and biblical references that were made, but the simpler meaning was what I totally got.
According to Rabbi Sacks, “What matters in the Torah is not how we see ourselves, but how we see and treat and behave toward others.” This line was equally incredible: “The world is not short of self-important people. What it is short of is those who make other people feel important.” How true is that? When we lift our heads, it should be to make others feel special and important — making eye contact with a delivery man, with a janitor, with anyone you pass on the street or at Votee Park. When you walk to shul, don’t ignore the person walking past you, whether you know them or not. Make eye contact, say hello, wish them a good Shabbos.
Sometimes I think about this community and it amazes me how the nicest, friendliest people are the exception to the rule and not the rule. (Except, unfortunately, when you are dying, are dead, or it is Purim. Again, fodder for another column.)
Another theme in Naso is that there is a census taken of the Jewish people — and people should never be made to feel like just a number. No one should be taken for granted. Everyone has the ability to make someone else feel unique. It really isn’t so hard to do. Unless, of course, you don’t like people, but out of respect to the person who sent this to me, I am going to try to turn over a new leaf. I usually am good about saying hello to everyone. The people who work at the supermarket — I even know most of their first names. And when you are really nice to them, they will open a lane just for you! See, it pays to be nice. But the real challenge, the one where you see someone who you have a history with, and not a good one, that is the real test of lifting one’s head. The ability to put your feelings aside and make that person feel special.
Arggg….I can do it, I know I can!
Like at the Salute to Israel Day parade — how many people did you see that you rolled your eyes and walked in another direction? (Wait, was I the only one who did that?) What would have been the big deal to say hello? Okay, people, and you know who I am talking to — time to start anew. Time to heed the words of Rabbi Lord Sacks and start being the type of people God intended us to be.
Lift your head, look into another person’s eyes, and make them feel important. And if you need to pat yourself on the back after that, so be it. It’s all about baby steps. I have faith that we can all get there. Or at least some of us….
Banji Ganchrow of Teaneck attempted to combine humor and Torah this week. Please let her know how she did. And thank you to the person who started this all.