All Beginnings Set the Tone (Shabbos 91)

Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mt. Sinai, preparing to receive the Torah.  As he reached its peak, he was elevated to the heavenly realms.  He found himself standing before the Almighty.  He stood there with trepidation as God placed the crowns upon each of the letters of the Torah.   Suddenly, God looks up from His holy task and chastises Moshe, “Welcome! Don’t they say Good Morning where you come from?”

מַתְנִי׳ הַמַּצְנִיעַ לְזֶרַע וּלְדוּגְמָא וְלִרְפוּאָה וְהוֹצִיאוֹ בְּשַׁבָּת — חַיָּיב בְּכׇל שֶׁהוּא. וְכׇל אָדָם — אֵין חַיָּיב עָלָיו אֶלָּא כְּשִׁיעוּרוֹ. גְּמָ׳ לְמָה לֵיהּ לְמִיתְנֵי ״הַמַּצְנִיעַ״? לִיתְנֵי: הַמּוֹצִיא לְזֶרַע וּלְדוּגְמָא וְלִרְפוּאָה — חַיָּיב בְּכׇל שֶׁהוּא! אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: הָכָא בְּמַאי עָסְקִינַן, כְּגוֹן שֶׁהִצְנִיעוֹ וְשָׁכַח לָמָּה הִצְנִיעוֹ, וְהַשְׁתָּא קָא מַפֵּיק לֵיהּ סְתָמָא מַהוּ דְּתֵימָא, בַּטּוֹלֵי בַּטְּלַהּ לְמַחְשַׁבְתּוֹ — קָא מַשְׁמַע לַן: כׇּל הָעוֹשֶׂה, עַל דַּעַת רִאשׁוֹנָה הוּא עוֹשֶׂה.

MISHNAH: One who stores a seed for sowing, or as a sample, or for medicinal purposes and carried it out on Shabbat is liable for carrying out any amount (as he has demonstrated that it is significant to him). Any other person is only liable for carrying it out on Shabbat if he carries out the minimum measure for liability. GEMARA: Why does the mishnah teach: One who stores? Let it say simply: One who carries out a seed for planting, or as a sample, or for medicinal purposes is liable for any amount. Abaye said: With what we are dealing here? Where one stored it for a specific purpose and forgot why he stored it, and now he carries it out for no specific purpose. Lest you suggest that his original intention is negated, the mishnah teaches us that ‘anyone who performs an action, performs the action with the first intention (daat) in mind.’

The Imrei Avraham quotes the principle of the Gemara and teaches that this should be one’s attitude to life every day.  Each morning, one should rise and set the tone for the entire day.  Immediately upon awakening, one must ask oneself what the spiritual goal is for today.  And then constantly refer back to that initial intention and ask yourself whether you are still on track.

According to the Imrei Avraham, the first commitment of the day should be the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow.  He derives this idea from the verse (Ex.13:2), “Sanctify to me every firstborn, the first issue of the womb (petter rechem) of the Israelites, of Adam . . .”  The word ‘rechem’ also means mercy or compassion.  The first issue on your mind upon your daily rebirth should be to show compassion towards your fellow Israelite and to every human being.

In order to remind oneself of this commitment, many have the custom of inserting a line before their daily prayers, “I hereby accept upon myself the positive mitzvah, ‘Love your fellow as yourself’.” The Magen Avraham codifies this beautiful idea, which originates in the Lurianic thought of Rabbi Chaim Vital.  How can we ask Hashem to show us mercy and compassion unless we are prepared to act likewise towards those around us?

Once you’ve made the declaration, not only have you set the tone for your davening, but for your entire day.  That should be your guiding principle.

Recently, I had some public dealings with a community philanthropist who was supporting a major interfaith initiative.  What struck me the most about the encounter was the number of people who commented to me, “He is such a nice person.”  Here was a major business and community leader, whose list of accomplishments is unparalleled by the vast majority.  But what’s the first thing people remark about him?  He’s such a nice person.  Clearly, the individual had prioritized his commitment to treating every person with care and respect, regardless of their background or station in life.

That’s the kind of impression you want to leave people with.  All the money in the world cannot buy you “shem tov,” a good name.  That comes from treating people with a generosity of spirit.  The smile and kind word to the beggar on the street can achieve even more than the small donation you drop in their cup.

The key phrase in the Gemara is “daat,” meaning ‘intention.’  Throughout your day, you need to stay focused upon the people with whom you are interacting.  At times, we robotically respond to situations or say things unthinkingly, without contemplating how our comment might be received.  Are we treating those around us as equals and opening our hearts to them?  Often, we build barriers between ourselves and others, albeit unwittingly.  ‘You wouldn’t get this, because you’re not from here.’  ‘You come from a different culture.’  We don’t intend any hurt or offense, but we need to think about how our barrier-building words might be heard and felt by the recipient.

How you set the tone first thing in the morning will influence everything that happens throughout your day.  But it’s not only the morning’s first tone that counts; it’s the first tone of every encounter.  When you return home from work, you could walk into the house, all stressed out, ready to take out your day’s frustrations on your family.  Of course nobody intends to do so.  But without intentionality, the stresses of the day might just explode the moment you kick your shoes off.  The tone you set upon ‘first’ setting foot into the house will dictate the atmosphere at home for the remainder of the evening.

Imagine how anxious Moshe must have felt upon entering the heavenly chamber.  And yet, that was no excuse.  God berated him for appearing and failing to greet Him with joy!

You should always think of something nice to say as soon as you enter.  Something nice that happened to you.  A kind word of enquiry about your family members’ day.  Even a joke.  The way you start the moment has reverberations and ramifications for every moment hence.  You know it’s true in a business meeting – that’s why you start with the chit-chat and relationship building.  Why would you offer your loved ones any less joviality?

The way you begin sets the tone for everything else that follows.  That’s true of the start of your morning.  It’s true of the start of your workday.  And it’s true of the start of your evening.  May you always start off on the right foot and enjoy happiness, prosperity, and wonderful relationships throughout your life!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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