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The Golden Rule

May 9, 2009 | by Raymond Sebag

Giving others the greatest gift possible.

A New York businessman dropped a dollar into the cup of a man selling pencils and hurriedly stepped aboard the subway train. On second thought, he stepped back off the train, walked over to the beggar and took several pencils from the cup.

Apologetically, he explained that in his haste he had neglected to pick up his pencils and hoped the man wouldn't be upset with him. "After all," he said, "you are a businessman just like myself. You have merchandise to sell and it's fairly priced." Then he caught the next train.

At a social function a few months later, a neatly dressed salesman stepped up to the businessman and introduced himself. "You probably don't remember me and I don't know your name, but I will never forget you. You are the man who gave me back my self-respect. I was a 'beggar' selling pencils until you came along and told me I was a businessman."


The greatest good you can do for someone is to hold him in high esteem. I once read, "Many people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could."

How do you treat others? When you see someone you know, do you greet them pleasantly and make them feel important? The Talmud teaches that it is better to show a person "the white of your teeth" (to give them a smile) than to give them a drink of milk (Ketubot, 111b). The commentaries say this applies even if the person has just come in after a long trek on a hot day. Your smile is still of more value, and does more for him than a cold drink ever could.

A person who practices the skill of spreading optimism and honoring others is going to benefit a lot of people. He will also receive immediate benefits since it is impossible to make someone feel better and not feel better yourself.

The opposite is also true. The Sages say that shame is the greatest pain (Talmud, Shabbat 50). Sometimes even a lack of a hello between neighbors or co-workers can cause more damage than we can imagine.

I once heard the following story from a prominent American rabbi who now lives in Israel. Many years ago, he was applying for a rabbinical post at a synagogue in the U.S. He was interested in taking the position on condition that the synagogue put up a "mechitza" (a separation for men and women). As he was an orthodox rabbi, this was something he could not compromise. Almost everyone in the community was for it except for the president of the shul. The president was bitterly opposed and would not budge an inch. Eventually, the president explained privately to the rabbi: "For 10 years, I've been living near an orthodox Jew. Every year on Sukkot, he builds his sukkah and celebrates with his family and friends. Not once did he invite me. There's no way I'm going to accept an orthodox synagogue here."

There's no greater pain than making someone feel like a nobody. According to Jewish tradition, the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed 2000 years ago due to a similar type of argument. Unfortunately, there's still a lot of work to be done.

One of the central themes in the Torah is the famous golden rule: "love your neighbor as yourself." Don't think that this is just an impractical ideal. These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of life, chaos results.

If you're harboring the slightest bitterness, or any unkind thoughts of any sort whatsoever, you should get rid of them quickly. They aren't hurting anyone but you. It is said that hate injures the hater, not the hated. I once read about a football coach, who would force players who had an argument to reconcile before they went back on the playing field. This wise coach understood that when a person has negativity towards someone, he cannot be happy and his performance will be impaired.

How can the Torah commands us to love our fellow Jews? The Torah can tell me to eat matzah on Passover or to put a mezuza on my doorpost, but how can the Torah command an emotion? The answer is you should act as if you love the person. If you act as if you love him, then the action will awaken the feeling of love.

The Hebrew word for "give" - "hav," is the same root as "ahava", which means "love." Giving is what leads to love. If a person learns to live to give what he can, instead of get what he can from life, he will enter a new and wonderful world. Once a person has tasted this, it is a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living.


Practically speaking, how can I put all this into practice? The answer is simple. Start giving. Rabbi Avigdor Miller taught his students to do at least once a day each of the following:

1. Say something to encourage someone.
2. Shine a big smile on someone.
3. (extra credit) Look at a person's face and think,"I'm seeing an image of God" (Genesis 1:27). This will help you to appreciate the tremendous inherent value in all human beings, including yourself!

Businessman story: (See You at the Top, Ziglar)
Shraga's Weekly - Be a Giver
Reb Mendel and His Wisdom, Artscroll Publications
Mildred N. Ryder (1908-1981), peace advocate

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