April 19, 2024
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I Couldn’t Have Done It Without You

Parshat Tazria begins with a few laws related to a woman who has just given birth. Among these laws is her requirement to avoid the Mikdash or anything holy. She also must bring a korban chatat—usually reserved for sins. Why is this? Maybe a story can help us.

“We couldn’t have done it without you!” This announcement, followed by applause, was a regular occurrence at Perfect Paper Inc. employee meetings. Following each successful project and Employee of the Month award ceremony, the entire staff would publicly express gratitude for each person being honored. Wendy had been working at Perfect Paper for almost two years, and was eagerly awaiting her moment in the gratitude spotlight.

Wendy tried everything she could to be crowned Employee of the Month. She was regularly the last one to leave work, she made a secret handshake with each of her coworkers, and memorized the names of every single employee’s children so she could ask about them. All of this was to no avail; two years had passed and nothing. Eventually, Wendy gave up and decided to simply continue on doing her job as usual.Therefore, she had no expectations when the Employee of the Month Award for March rolled around.

Wendy’s boss, Peter Paper, began the announcement: “In honor of her dedication…” Wendy’s ears perked up. “Okay, it’s a ‘her,’ so that means it could be me!” she thought. “…And for always having a smile on her face…” Wendy’s heart fluttered. “That does sound like me…or Carol from accounting.” Peter was now wrapping it up. “I am proud to recognize Wendy as employee of the month! All together now, “WE COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU!” As Wendy made her way to the front of the room, she felt like she was floating on air. After accepting the award with a stunned smile on her face, it was now Wendy’s opportunity to return the compliment (“And I couldn’t have done it without all of you!”), but instead something strange happened. Wendy cleared her throat and said loud and clear “and all of you couldn’t have done it without ME!”

A loud gasp issued from the crowd. Wendy clapped her hands over her mouth. She could not believe her own words. She let go a nervous laugh, took a deep breath and tried again. “You couldn’t have done it without me! I mean, I would have been fine without you! I mean, I did it all myself!” The room sat in stunned silence, until suddenly…“Wendy! My office, now!”

In her Peter’s office, Wendy was beside herself. She could not explain her selfish words or why she couldn’t control what she said. Thankfully, Wendy noticed the calendar on the desk said April 1st. After 15 minutes of explaining, she convinced her boss that she was just playing a prank on everyone.“Well, I guess the worst I can accuse you of is having a weird sense of humor,” he said. I’ll explain it to everyone, but please keep the pranks out of the office for now.” Relieved, but still nervous, Wendy needed to know if this problem of hers had gone away. To find out, she headed to Starbucks.

At Starbucks, Wendy ordered her favorite drink and waited. As the barista handed her the drink and wished her a good day, Wendy smiled and politely said, “You’re welcome. I hope I have a good day too!” Wendy had lost her ability to recognize the efforts of others! Her hakarat hatov was gone. How could this be? Wendy headed back to the office, kept to herself, went straight home at 5 p.m., and took the next day off to figure it out.

After spending the day reading WebMD, watching TED Talks, and diving into r/gratitude on Reddit, nothing had changed. “Thank you” still came out as “you’re welcome,” and “you’re the best” sounded a lot like “I’m the best.” Wendy was stuck. Fortunately, the parshat hashavua, with some help from Wendy’s rabbi, came along to save the day.

That night at shul, Wendy’s rabbi spoke about the beginning of Parshat Tazria: “Why is it that a woman who gives birth is treated as being tamei (impure) and a sinner? Why must she stay away from the Beit HaMikdash? Why must she bring a korban chatat, a sacrifice for sinning? The answer has to do with our relationship with Hashem. Our first impression of Hashem is as the Creator of the World from nothing. His is the only power that can create without any support from anyone or anything else. Human beings are also given the ability to create, but as opposed to Hashem, we rely on the help of others and the materials in Hashem’s world. We must always be aware of our reliance on Hashem and others, keeping us humble and full of gratitude.

However, when a woman gives birth, she has taken part in creating another human being. This can lead to her feeling closer to a true creator, like Hashem, than like someone who needs others. Therefore, the mother must avoid the Mikdash and must bring a korban chatat. This is not as a result of impurity or sin, but instead marks the distance created through giving birth. Her time away from the Mikdash symbolizes this distance and the korban is the effort to close the gap. The new mother thereby strengthens her connection to Hashem as the source of all bracha and it reminds her to have hakarat hatov.”

Upon hearing this message, Wendy knew exactly what to do. After Shabbat was over, she emailed work to inform her supervisor that she was taking two weeks for vacation. Wendy spent the next two weeks away from work relaxing, and occasionally thinking, “I wonder how they can possibly be okay without me?” However, upon her return, Wendy saw that Perfect Paper had functioned perfectly in her absence. She realized that her contribution to the company is only important when combined with the efforts of those around her. After this realization, Wendy opened up her email and sent the following message to everyone she knows: “Thank you to everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. I COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU!”

By Yair Daar

 

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