Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

How Important Is One Hair?

Acharei – Kedoshim

A doctor, an accountant and a Rabbi talking about what they would like to hear about themselves at their own funeral.  

“I would like people to remember that I was a family man who chose the welfare of my family above all else,” said the accountant.

“I would like people to say that I dedicated my life to the welfare of complete strangers,” said the doctor.

“And you, Rabbi, what would you like to hear at your funeral?” they asked.

“I would love to hear people say, ‘Hey, look! He’s moving!'”

What does this conversation have to do with anxiety, depression and this week’s reading [1]?

Sometimes it helps to think about the day after one’s physical life to put things in their true perspective.

This week we read two readings: Ajarei Mot and Kedoshim. While they speak about a wide variety of topics, with a lot of detail, the mere juxtaposition of the names already contains a teaching. 

Ajarei Mot means “after [the] death [of],” and Kedoshim means “holy”. There are profound teachings in that combination of names that deserve to be studied. There is, however, a popular expression that says, kind of toungue-in-cheek: “after death, holy”, meaning that people are usually valued after they are no longer physically with us.

Imagine what our relationships would look like if we could access that perspective and appreciation before someone dies. And not just as far as others are concerned, but also – and perhaps more importantly – when talking about appreciating oneself.

Many times we are bothered by things that have happened or not happened, that we have achieved or not achieved. If we think about the value that these things will have after we are no longer here, it is very possible that our perspective will change as well as the discomfort that they cause. 

How much importance one attaches to things depends a lot on the context. Is one hair a little or a lot? It depends on the context: finding a single hair in your soup is one too many; a single hair on your head is far from a lot.

So before you worry about things, ask yourself: “After i’m gone, will it matter?”

I can imagine the reader challenging what I just said by asking: “I’m living now; what’s the use of thinking about how things will be when I’m not here anymore? Should I live my life now as if I were already dead?”

The explanation is very simple.

One can go through life spending it or investing it. Every day that passes can be a day more or a day less. It depends on you. One way to evaluate whether they are spent or invested is to think about what will be left of them afterwards. If the result of your decision is nothing more than a personal, immediate and passing benefit, it is most likely an expense; if it generates a benefit that impacts beyond the limited situation, generating a benefit for many, in many places for a long time, it is the best sign that you are looking at an investment with a good return.

So the tool of this week is: before you decide to be bothered by something, make sure you judge it in its correct context. It may not be all that very important after everything is said and done… To quote Rabbi Manis Friedman: In the end everything turns out OK; if things are not OK, it’s because nit’s not the end.

—–

  1.  Leviticus, 16:1-20:27
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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