12 Kislev 5781 / Saturday, November 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayeitzei
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The Basic Building Block    

The Basic Building Block

I get my best stories while sitting on the bus. Although in Kansas or Philadelphia people might discuss the price of gasoline or the latest scandal...


I get my best stories while sitting on the bus. Although in Kansas or Philadelphia people might discuss the price of gasoline or the latest scandal, here, in the holy city of Jerusalem, it's common that when acquaintances meet, they talk about serving Hashem.
A few weeks ago I got on the bus and sat next to a woman who, although I didn't know her by name, I recognized from the local grocery store and butcher. We started talking and she told me the following story:
Reb Shmuel was extremely perplexed. His neighbor was a quiet, unassuming man who spent his days and nights in Torah study and prayer. People in the local shul looked up to him as a hidden tzaddik. He was a paragon of virtue in every way, except for one. Every morning, as Reb Shmuel rushed out of the house to daven Shacharit, he noticed his neighbor, who davened in the same minyan, casually standing next to his mailbox, reading the morning headlines.
It didn't bother Reb Shmuel that his neighbor enjoyed reading the paper. He, too, subscribed to the same paper as his neighbor, and read it religiously – but after davening, not before. "A Jew has priorities," he thought indignantly. "And davening definitely comes before reading the newspaper."
* * *
As I heard this story, I, too, was a bit perplexed by the neighbor's behavior. If he was a tzaddik, couldn't he wait until after davening to look at the paper?
My acquaintance continued her story:
One morning, Reb Shmuel noticed his neighbor copying a few words from the front page of the paper into a tiny notepad that he kept in his shirt pocket. Reb Shmuel couldn't contain his curiosity. "Excuse me," he interrupted him, "but would you mind if I ask you something?"
"My pleasure," the neighbor smiled.
"Wh… what could be so important in the morning headlines that it can't wait until after you daven?"
"Oh, I don't read the headlines," the neighbor replied, still smiling. "I just jot down the names of people who are in need of our prayers."
(Names of very ill people in need of our prayers are often posted on the front page of the religious Israeli newspapers.)
* * *
The woman next to me finished her story and smiled. "It just goes to show you," she said, "how we really must search for the good point in each person, and sometimes we must use our imagination to find that good point!"
A Reflection
Rebbe Nachman says, "The way to sing the song of joy is by seeking the good in all people, especially in ourselves. Each good point is one more note in the song of life!"
Seeking the good in each person, especially ourselves…
To be able to search for the positive in others, we must first be able to see, and believe, in the good that exists within ourselves. A person who constantly needs to put down others is lacking a sense of self esteem, while a person with a strong sense of self-esteem is able to see the good within others. They don't see others' strengths as threatening, because they believe in their own self worth.
When we are able to see ourselves in a positive light, we will also be able to view others in a positive light, which becomes, as the Rebbe describes it "song of joy," "song of life!"
How we view others is a reflection of how we view ourselves. The ability to look for the good in others is a sign of an emotionally healthy and mature individual. True humility does not mean a lack of self-esteem. It does mean, however, realizing that all our strengths and positive attributes are a gift from Above, to be used wisely as Hashem wants us to use them. There is no room for ego.
How we view the world is a reflection of our soul. The key to happiness in everything – our family relationships, our work environment, our spiritual development – lies within ourselves. Without creating a strong basic building block – ourselves – we cannot create anything that is lasting, or real.
Yes, all of us have things to work on. No one is perfect, and most of us are far from perfect. Yet, all of us have positive attributes and strengths. To be able to work on our negative points, to change ourselves and become better people, we must be aware of our strengths and realize that, with all our deficiencies, (yes, we all have 'em!) we, our essence, is far from being deficient! We are worthy human beings, created in the image of Hashem, on a spiritual journey called "life."
May Hashem grant us the ability to perceive and actualize our strengths, and use them properly to create a true "song of joy."

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