Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sefira: "Don't just count the days; make the days count."

As I was counting Sefira, I was thinking about the cute line that I once heard about Sefira, “Don’t just count the days, make the days count.” In addition to being catchy, it made me think about these particular days and how Rabbi Akiva’s students were killed because they did not treat each other with respect/honor/Kavod. Perhaps this is why Rabbi Akiva is the one who says that “V’Ahavta L’Rayacha Kamocha” is a Klal Gadol BaTorah.

One thing that bothers me a lot is when Jews are not respectful of one another. That is the reason that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed- Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred. It’s OK to disagree with people. Sometimes people are wrong, and sometimes they do bad things, but that is no reason to hate them or treat them disrespectfully. Hashem loves all Jews, no matter how fall they might have fallen. If Hashem has mercy, how can we not have mercy on our fellow Jew?

Sometimes it is difficult to separate people from their actions. Sometimes it’s difficult to love all Jews no matter what, the way that Hashem does. A while ago there was someone who I was having a difficult time getting along with, and so I started making a list of ways I could improve myself when it came to getting along with them. I realized as I was making the list that the ideas were not only applicable to that particular individual, but that they were really ways that I should be treating everyone.

I find when it comes to Sefira and also the Three weeks (when people focus on the fact that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam), it is difficult to find practical suggestions of what to do to work on having Kavod for others. Here is the list that I made. I wish I could say I was even close to being on the level of all of the items on the list. I’m not posting it because I am there, but because I was looking for practical suggestions in order to make an effort, and thought this list might be useful to others who were looking as well.

10 suggestions for Kavod HaBriyot and Ahavat Chinam:

1. Always judge people favorably. The source for this is in Pirkei Avot. This doesn’t mean always assume that a person is doing something good. Sometimes people make mistakes or don’t make the right choice. No one is perfect, we still we are good even when we mess up. Judging favorably means judging a person to be a good person, even if they do bad things.
2. Accept them for who they are. Don’t try to change who they are. We can’t change people, as much as sometimes we might want to. Maybe they have an irritating laugh or an annoying habit that bothers us. Hating them for a small reason like that is Sinat Chinam. Move past it and accept that is who they are.
3. Treat everyone with honor and respect. Think of how we treat great people or famous people. We would never be rude or say something hurtful to a great Rabbi or a distinguished politician. Try to hold everyone to that high level of respect.
4. Care about them. V’Ahavta L’Rayacha Kamocha. I once learned that this means that you should want what’s best for them. If you really care about another person you are happy for them when good things happen to them, and are upset when bad things happen to them.
5. Give to them. Different people need different things from us. For one person it might be listening to them when they want someone to talk to, and for another person it might be giving charity. While it’s obviously impossible to give to everyone in the world, when opportunities to give to others arise, our immediate reaction should be, “Sure!” or “I wish I could,” instead of “They aren’t part of my social circle” or “They aren’t as frum as/ they are more frum than I am, so why should I give to them, if they don’t give to me?”
6. Overlook people’s faults. This is really hard because often we are critical and people’s faults are obvious. Remember that it’s not our job to correct other people’s thoughts; it is only our responsibility to fix our own flaws. If this seems impossible, remember that we often do this for friends and family. Although we are perfectly aware of their flaws, because they are family or because they are our friends, we ignore that and maintain a relationship with them anyway.
7. Focus on their positive aspects. Although this might seem remarkably similar to the previous item on the list, the truth is that even if you overlook someone’s faults, you might still not realize what an amazing person they are. Everyone has positive qualities, and there is something to be learned from everyone.
8. Realize that they have difficulties in life. I find that I see people in a completely different light once I think about this point. Sometimes we forget that people are struggling with their own issues, and perhaps that is the cause of their negative behavior. We jump to the conclusion that because they act a certain way it is because they are a certain type of person. We never know a person’s struggles or what their life is really like.
9. Believe in them, in their strength and their ability/potential to be great. Hashem created every human being for a reason. Each person has a unique person and each person has the potential to achieve greatness. The way you approach people and the way you treat people will be different if you realize that they could become a Tzadik/Tzadeket one day.
10. Be forgiving and let things go. Sometimes people insult or offend us and we are hurt and out of stubbornness insist on holding on to it and constantly bring it up. “Why should I trust you to be on time this time? Last time you were 45 minutes late!” Even if they haven’t apologized, let things go.

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