The Three Weeks is upon us and sometimes the laws related to interpersonal relationships are not prioritized properly. All year round, our mindset should always be focused on treating others with the utmost respect. However, the time period of the Three Weeks and now, the nine days, serves as a reminder for us — helping to bring this to the forefront of our minds.
Human beings always need a good reminder. Our annual dental appointment reminds us how important flossing is all year long. It even gives us the much needed push to take better care of teeth.
The Three Weeks is our built-in yearly checkup regarding how we treat our fellow human beings!
With that in mind I had an experience…
On a recent visit to Monsey, my husband, son and I made a quick stop at a grocery store for some food items. This particular shopping strip had intentionally visible, large signs mandating that all shoppers conform to the Jewish laws of modest dress.
As we finished shopping, we left the store and started walking to our car which was parked in a huge lot. Right outside the store, we saw an elderly woman standing with several heavy grocery bags in her cart.
Before proceeding, I paused to ask if she needed help getting to her car. She smiled and said, “Thank you, but I have a helper who is bringing the car around.” Then she said something that shocked all three of us. “I want you to know I have been shopping here for years and you are the first person to ever ask me if I needed help.”
We were all dumbfounded that this elderly woman had never been offered help. My son asked me, “Mom, isn’t this a religious neighborhood? How weird is that?!”
Similarly, when picking up the kids from the bus I saw a new mom I had never seen before. I didn’t know if she was new to the school or if I had never met her because of the COVID pandemic. I said hello and we made small talk.
At a later time she said, “I want you to know I was inspired by you saying hello to me. I used to say hello to other moms all the time, but I started to feel like people didn’t want to engage in conversation or just weren’t interested in my friendship. But when I saw you say hello, it lit something up inside of me to start again. Why do so many people just ignore one another?”
A few kind words can make all the difference in a person’s life.
Dr. David Pelcovitz, a world-renowned psychologist, shares an incredible story when he was asked to speak for a homeless convention. He assumed he would be addressing those who were homeless and offering tools and techniques to survive and thrive.
He was utterly surprised when he walked into the room and there was not a single homeless person in the room. The audience was full of therapists, community leaders, Rabbis and businessmen. The keynote speaker was a wealthy man who was dressed in a custom-tailored suit and a Harvard graduate.
The entire audience was silenced and shocked by his opening remarks.
“When I was a little boy, I watched my father take my mother’s life and then his own. Then I spent several years in various homeless shelters. But FOUR WORDS changed my entire life.
At this point everyone was taking out their notebooks preparing to write down the forthcoming pearls of wisdom. “No no, you don’t need your notebooks for this… I was going to be placed in foster care and I saw very quickly that it never leads anywhere good for kids. So, instead, I chose to hide. I slept in hallways and behind doors and went from shelter to shelter. I was a quiet kid, some would have called me selectively mute. At one shelter, a social worker approached me and said four words that changed my life forever.
He said: “How are you doing? Four words. But he said them like he really wanted to know the answer. With that, I opened up and started talking for the first time in many years. We met many times and he eventually helped me get into a top-level high school, and ultimately into Harvard. I was able to make something of myself.”
Four words changed everything. You don’t have to give money. You can give people your time, your support, your attention. We can all give the world to someone in this way.
THE POWER OF SPEECH
By just using our MOUTHS, saying a few words, we can change someone’s world.
Inside the letter pey, as it is written in the Torah, is a white space that forms the shape of the letter bet.
What is the connection and relationship between the letter pey and the letter bet?
When you spell out Hebrew letters, they actually form a word.
For example, the letter lamed consists of lamed-mem-daled; when spelled these three words spell “lamad,” which means “to learn.”
The letter pey when you spell it out makes “peh” which means “mouth,” while bet when spelled out forms “home.”
A home is not about the walls, floors or rooftop. A true home is about a relationship. How many people do you need for a relationship? Two, the numerical value of bet.
A LITTLE SUPPORT MAKES A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE
The word Neshama can have different interpretations based on the vowels associated with the word.
Neshama with the vowel kamatz means our soul, our life source.
Neshaama, with a patach, means empty and depressed. (This word is found in several places in the Haftarah of Parshat Parah)
Rav Mordechai Shapiro asks a poignant question, how can the same letters carry with themit polar opposite definitions depending on the vowels? The only difference between the patach and kamatz is a seemingly insignificant small line.?
A kamatz is a vowel that even sounds similar to the patach, with one difference. A patach looks like a capital T. It is a horizontal line, like the patach, but it has a little support underneath.
A little support makes all the difference in a person. It can be the difference between a life infused with happiness and energy and a life that feels void.
When we support each other, we can stand stronger ourselves.
THE ROOTS THAT GROW OUTWARD
The assumption is that a tree of that magnitude must have incredibly deep roots. However, after researching, scientists have found that redwood trees, while hundreds of feet tall, have roots that reach a mere 5-6 feet into the ground. How could a tree of this magnitude hold itself up? How is it that an entity with a shallow foundation could be so strong, grow so large, and live so long? The answer is actually found in these underwhelming roots. The roots of the redwood tree don’t grow downward, they grow outward. The roots reach out to the other trees surrounding them and latch on to one another.
The lesson for us is clear. When we reach outwards and give to others, we grow stronger and taller. The support we offer to others actually supports us.
We may not have deep roots to stand on, but when we reach out in order to give to others, that action itself gives us strength. While questioning how my friend had the strength to give, I came to understand that her giving is the secret to her strength.
Tisha B’Av is rapidly approaching. 40 days prior to Yom Kippur, we work on our relationship between Man and G-d. So too, we should work for forty days on our relationships between man and man. As the world seems to turn their back on the Jewish people and Israel as a whole, our only hope communally and individually is to support each other and gain strength through that support.
Let’s do it!