April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Basking in the warmth of the Siyum Hashas, though not necessarily the warmth of the stadium, I wasn’t sure what I would write about. I had numerous impressions and thoughts during and after the event (including getting a new subscriber for my parsha sheet who will iy”H share it at his shul in Johannesburg!), and was trying to hone in on one idea.

Then a woman stopped me outside the supermarket, a place where I get many of my inspirations, and said with a big smile, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to write this week!”

That clinched it. I would have to speak about the power of words.

You see, her compliment was a tremendous source of chizuk and encouragement to me. She made me feel special and that what I was going to write was important. I couldn’t let her down.

One of the most frequently quoted facets of the Siyum HaShas was the tremendous Kiddush Hashem evoked by the politeness and appreciation of the attendees for the event staff. While it would be nice to imagine this was organic, much of it was due to the words of one person, Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisemann of Passaic, New Jersey. He wrote a brilliant “checklist” of things to bring to the Siyum that went viral.

First on this list was a smile, then came wishing Happy New Year and thank yous. These things would be crucial to participants making the right impression on the staff. Upon reading this piece, nearly everyone recognized the shining and simple truth behind them. They carried it through and thus used the power of their own words to burnish the reputation of klal Yisrael, and in turn the Ribono Shel Olam, in the eyes of the very people who might otherwise have looked askance at us.

It’s reminiscent of Yaakov’s meeting with Esav in which his overly effusive bowing and trying to find favor in Esav’s eyes actually worked, and instead of trying to kill Yaakov, Esav kissed him. In this time of rampant anti-Jewish sentiment, it’s a great reminder of the power of words.

Building on this concept, I suggested that if we were able to make such an impression on non-Jews, it would be wonderful if we sought to share those smiles and courtesies with our fellow Jews. I tried to live this, and when I went to a different supermarket, as I passed a woman when I entered, I gave her a bright smile. She responded with an icy glare.

A few moments later our paths crossed again. Remembering my mission to see the Tzelem Elokim in others, I again smiled. She reiterated her frown.

When we ended up at the same section of the supermarket a third time, I opened my mouth. “Before the Siyum they told me to smile at the goyim,” I said, with a big grin. “Should I do any less for the Yidden?!” This time she smiled, as my words made their impression on her. We should always be looking for opportunities to let people recognize that we see the Godliness in them.

I praised the behavior at the Siyum in my writing, but someone responded, “I won’t praise anyone for their behavior for one day when the rest of the time they are rude and disrespectful to gentiles and cause anti-Semitism.” I responded that the fact that people heard the suggestion and carried it out is definitely something worth praising.

Further, by downplaying the goodness of their behavior and focusing on when they did wrong other times, that doesn’t encourage people to do better and continue their exemplary behavior. In this case a few nice words could go a long way.

When people tell me they enjoy my writing, as the woman outside the supermarket did, it makes me feel a greater obligation to fully invest my energies in it. When you take the time to compliment someone, you are not just being nice, but you are telling them that they matter. You could be giving someone a new lease on life without even realizing it.

Though I hate to be a downer, it’s important to realize the flip side. When you say something negative, it’s also very powerful. There’s an expression I heard some years ago: “Never confuse words with weapons. Words can be much more deadly.” We should be aware of the power of words and use them for good because so much can be achieved if we use them properly.

The siyum of a mesechta (or Shas) uses words to connote a deep relationship with the material. We will return to you, and you will return to us. We will think of you, and you will think of us. Though the Torah we’ve studied can’t “think of us” (though the angels we create through our mitzvos perhaps can), what we say reminds us of how crucial our connection to Hashem and His Torah is. We use these words to cement this relationship because, of everything in this universe, words are among the most powerful and lasting tools we can find.

Did you enjoy this column? Feedback is welcome and appreciated. E-mail [email protected] to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.

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