pirkei avot 3:12 - Be Validating

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

Rabbi Yishmael said, “Be yielding to a leader, easygoing with the black-haired (young and inexperienced) and receive every person in with joy.

Rabbenu Yona explains Rabbi Yishmael's mishna: if you desire to yield you must first learn to recognize your betters. Army rank, older family members, IQ, EQ and all the rest aside, what markers display someone's superiority? 

Rabbi Yitzchak Issac, one of the Chasidic (Hasidic) masters from 19th century Europe, answers this question with a quote from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "The wise man's eyes are in his head..." (2:14) i.e. one who is wise focuses entirely on his Divine mission. Thus, by keeping himself on the straight and narrow, he creates a lifelong revelation of G-d. This is also how he manages to serve the ultimate Superior, the Master upstairs, well. That is the kind of person we follow around and from whom we seek out advice. He knows how to serve G-d and if he's willing, he'll show us.

Here's a little something to get us started. One of G-d's defining characteristics is kindness. How do we show kindness to others? Rabbi Yishmael just threw out a couple of suggestions. Be kind to the younger people i.e. the black haired and inexperienced. Greet every person you meet with joy. The Rambam adds that this mishnah is a mitzvah (commandment) which does not differentiate between color, creed and religion. Not only that but our sages made sure to emphasize that we are not living in a dog-eat-dog world. Don't use your height or weight to intimidate. And if anyone finds it difficult to treat fellow human beings with respect, they might do well to recall that G-d metes out justice measure for measure: the respect we give each other will mirror G-d's treatment of us.

My grandfather was an empathetic man of the world. He always used humor and a cheerful countenance to make everyone around him happy. I am certain that this was due to his making G-d's will his highest authority. When my Zeidie greeted people with joy, they reciprocated. Even the men mugging him in the street couldn't help but show appreciation for his attitude. 

Family lore has it that my Zeidie was once heading home when he was surrounded by three large men. The first guy folded his arms and said, “Hey Rabbi, give us all your money.” My grandfather nodded a couple of times, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you some money.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out three dollars, “One for you and one for you…” As he put his wallet away the muggers protested saying that they’d seen more money. “Yes, it’s true, I have more money,” my grandfather replied, “But that’s my car fare. You don’t want me to be stranded, do you?” and he looked each one in the eye. No, they shook their heads, they didn’t. As they walked away, one of them looked over his shoulder and remarked, “Hey Rabbi, You got off easy.” 

One brisk, Autumn morning in Brooklyn my grandfather "got off easy" but perhaps there was more to the story than dumb luck. Zeidie was accosted, but rather than respond with fight or flight he appealed to their sense of humanity; they left him alone. You could say that that was “greeting every person with joy.” 

Rabbi Yishmael is offering us inner tranquility on a white platter. Part of greeting every human being with joy is about noticing each one's inherent worth, reminding him that he is worthy.  How does submitting to G-d's authority connect to the attainment of peace and harmony, though? Simple: in order to receive every person with joy we need to learn how to validate everyone in terms of who they are and where they're coming from. Who wouldn't want to be around a person like that? (***Exceptions do apply. Sometimes it's better to avoid wicked people rather than cause needless friction. Ask your local orthodox Rabbi/ mentor).

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