The Greeting that Saved Lives
Behar-Bechukotai (Leviticus 25-27 )
What gives a person value and makes him important? Is it his wealth? His looks or talents?
According to the Torah, a person is important and valuable just because he's a person created by God. In this week's portion, when somebody wanted to donate his 'value' in silver to the Tabernacle, each person in every age group was told to give the same amount, implying that they all had equal value in the eyes of God. We learn from here to treat each and everyone we meet with true respect, no matter how important or not they seem on the outside.
In our story a boy goes out of his way to show respect for everyone, and is glad he did.
"PAYING RESPECTS "
Another fun-filled summer at Camp Wallabee was in full swing. The campers had settled in, and were really enjoying the long, lazy days of sports, nature walks, and especially swimming and boating on Lake Wallabee.
One day, Jay and his friends were chatting and joking as they made their way back from the lake on their way to lunch. They walked quickly past the old janitor's shack, paying it no attention. Only Jay stopped for a moment to greet the small, wrinkled man half-dozing inside.
"Hi Ed, have a good day!" Jay said, with a big smile. He exchanged a few pleasant words with the man, and ran to catch up with his friends who had already reached the lunchroom.
"Hey Jay, what took you so long?" teased Adam. "Having another deep conversation with your friend, the janitor?" he laughed derisively.
Jay blushed, embarrassed by the boy's comment. Old Ed was a plain, simple man without much of an education, doing what the boys considered an unimportant job. They would sometimes laugh and make fun of him behind his back, but usually just ignored him, as if he didn't even exist.
But Jay's parents had always taught him to show respect to everyone he met. His dad would always say, "If God felt somebody was important enough to put into His world, certainly he's important enough for us to treat decently."
Jay dug into his lunch, trying to ignore his friend's barb, and the incident was soon forgotten.
The next day was boating day. The excited campers trotted down the path to the lake, each running past Ed, the janitor, without giving him a second look. As Jay passed by, he felt tempted to do the same. Maybe the other kids were right, and it was just foolish to pay so much attention to someone like that.
He was about to fly by like the rest, but something inside wouldn't let him. "A person is a person," he thought. "Just because he's not someone people consider so important, that doesn't mean I should ignore him." He stopped and greeted Ed, who as usual smiled back at him and mumbled a few friendly words.
Jay and Adam, who had teamed up, felt like ancient explorers as they rowed their boat to the far end of the lake. But they got a little carried away, and rowed a bit too close to the rocky shore. Suddenly there was a big bump and a loud ripping sound. The boys were shocked to hear those sounds, and even more shocked to see water gushing into the boat.
"A sharp rock must have pierced the bottom of our boat!" yelled Jay.
Fortunately they were very close to the edge of the lake, and they were able to row the leaking boat quickly to the nearby shore.
"What do we do now?" asked Adam, panic in his voice.
"Don't worry," Jay said. "When the counselors check the list of boats, and notice that the one you signed out didn't come back in time, they'll for sure come and find us."
But Adam didn't look relieved. In fact he looked terrified. "Oh, no!" he gasped. "I was in such a hurry, I forgot to sign us out for the boat this time. No one knows we're here. We'll be stuck here forever!"
Sure enough, hours passed with no sign of help on the way. It was now starting to get dark. The boys had no idea what to do and were on the verge of despair.
Suddenly they heard the sound of an approaching motorboat. They were relieved to see chief water counselor who spotted them with his searchlight. "Wow, thanks for saving us!" cried out the grateful boys.
The counselor shook his head. "Don't thank me," he said with a stern look. "Without your names on the sign-out list, I had no idea you were out there."
The boys looked confused. "So how did you know we were missing?"
"You can thank old Ed, the janitor," the counselor said. "I was about to lock up the dock for the night, when he came running over and told me that all of the boys hadn't come back. I assured him they had, but he insisted, saying that he had been in his shack all afternoon, and one boy, the only boy who ever spoke to him, had greeted him on the way to the lake, but not on the way back. I counted the boats again, and sure enough, we discovered he was right."
The boys stood there with mouths wide open. They both saw very clearly just how important the 'unimportant' man that Jay had properly treated with respect had really been in their lives.
Q. How did most of the boys feel about Ed the Janitor?
A. They felt that since he wasn't very smart or rich, he wasn't important enough to talk to.
Q. How did Jay feel differently?
A. He felt that every single person is important because he was made by God.
Q. Do you think that some people are more valuable and important than others?
A. While some people do have more talents, power, or possessions than others, we are all of equal value. Every one of us has been created by God with his own special set of circumstances, and mission to fulfill in life. Each human being is unique, and an invaluable piece of the great jig-saw puzzle of life.
Q. Why do you think Ed the janitor noticed that Jay hadn't returned and went out of his way to tell the water counselor?
A. Unlike his friends, Jay made a special effort to greet Ed every day, and treat him with dignity. Because Jay cared about the janitor, Ed, in turn, cared about Jay. It was only natural that he would notice that Jay hadn't passed him and greeted him again on his way back from the lake. When we go out of our way to treat each and every person we meet in a way that lets them know we feel they are important, we bring a lot of light into their lives, and do our part to make the world a better place.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that we shouldn't look down on any person, as there is nobody who doesn't have his moment. What does this statement mean to you?
A. There is a temptation to look at the world from a very limited viewpoint, and see people in terms of 'haves' and 'have-nots.' It can seem that only those who have whatever society values are worthy of our respect. The sages of the Torah want us to adopt a higher, more spiritual perspective, and realize that if someone weren't an important part of God's plan for the world, he wouldn't be here. Each person has his 'moment,' his unique reason for being put here, and therefore is just as important in the big scheme of things as anyone else.
Q.Are all men created equal?
A. Yes, and no. In the ultimate sense, as God's children we are all equally valuable and necessary parts of creation. Yet each of us has been given a role to play, and the assets needed to play that role, which can be vastly different. The ideal is to respect the intrinsic Godly value of every human being, but not make the mistake of thinking that we should somehow discourage, or prevent people from being their unique selves, and playing the roles for which they are especially suited.