Honorable moments

Do I make eye contact?  How does a person wish to be addressed?  What’s the most gracious way to present a gift?  Johnny Kassabri, a Police Commander in Jerusalem’s Old City, understands the centrality of respect.  As the chief liaison to the Christian community his presentation to our group this week focused on these subtle gestures.  He regularly needs to balance the passions of five diverse and disagreeing branches of Christianity – Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Greek, and Catholic – in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.   

How does one de-escalate anger when the fervently religious become emotionally overheated?

When someone is feeling humiliated, how can her or his sense of shame be mitigated?  The same answer applies to both of these challenges: respect.  Both the shamed and the angry individual feels disrespected, so replenishing a measure of it goes a long way.

Emotional intensity is a part of Joseph’s encounters with his brothers in this week’s portion of Torah.  It is a curious and subtle point that their father has orchestrated both of their respective – albeit disrespectful – encounters.  Last week, Jacob had sent his favorite son to meet his brothers (Gen. 37:14).  Now, Jacob sends the brothers to encounter his favorite son (Gen. 42:2).  Of course the father has no idea that he is doing so.  Perhaps God’s Torah suggests that even as we make decisions and act on them, we never know how their impact will be felt or where their consequences may eventually lead.  Achieving family reconciliation by settling in Egypt is the aim of the conclusion of the Torah’s first book.  How this transpires will have more to do with how the protagonists elect to manage tensions, jealousies, and hurt feelings.

Hanukkah in Israel is always special.  Being closer to the location where the single cruise of oil miraculously burned for eight days somehow makes the Festival of Lights feel more vivid.  Yet the second blessing we pray when we light the candles focuses more on timing than on location.  We thank God for working wonders back in those days (bayamim hahem) and in our days (bazman hazeh).  Judaism blends the timeless with the timely. 

We never know where a respectful gesture may lead.  In a world so hungry for honorable moments, may respectful works from our willing hearts and hands help us to find out someday.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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