We’re all guilty of being too quick to judge others based on outside appearances. Sometimes we make negative assumptions and overlook a treasure, and sometimes we are fooled by an impressive appearance with a rotten core.
Here are two small stories about hidden treasures.
Several weeks ago I was on my way to a softball game, and stopped to get something to eat at the Shoresh Interchange, a small rest stop off the highway outside Jerusalem. The nearby communities are not known for their yeshivas and kollels. There was a combination convenience store/wine shop/diner that had a Shalom Falafel station and a separate schnitzel and hot dog station, all sharing a dining area. Presumably it was all one business. I ordered a falafel. The young Israeli man serving me spoke a beautiful English and sported an earring. I was dressed to play ball, and was wearing a baseball cap.
He asked me if I wanted “chips”. I said yes. He said that he was out of chips, but he offered to get some from the meat station. However, he cautioned me that they would be fleishig. There was no reason to assume that this young man had any inkling of kashrus, nor from the way I was dressed that it mattered to me whether the fries would make me fleishig (it did, and after a quick calculation I ordered them anyway). I was really impressed that he knew, that he cared, and that he casually volunteered the information to someone who wasn’t dressed like an “ultra Orthodox” person.
The following week I was on the way home from a softball game and was waiting for a bus on King George Street in the center of Jerusalem. It was a little after 10 PM, but the city was full of life. Two young Israeli men were hanging out near the bus stop, the sort who might have been thought of as arsim, or punks.
An old man pulled up inside a kal-noit, a scooter that resembles a golf cart. He clearly had health/medical issues and was missing most or all of his teeth. He stopped by these young men and asked them which bus to take to get to Katamon. They told him what he needed to know. Instead of thanking them and moving on, the man in the cart started schmoozing with them. It was difficult for me to hear what he was saying, and for them as well, as he had trouble speaking clearly. The man asked them various questions about themselves, what they do for work (hi-tech), etc.
This could easily have been taken as intrusive and bothersome. But the two young men listened and replied to the man with great patience, not showing the slightest trace of annoyance. This went on for several minutes. Then his bus arrived and the young men hurried to the door to alert the driver to open the back door and wait for the man in the cart to board.
If these young men were famous rabbis with long white beards, this story would make it into their semi-apocryphal biography as a testament to their saintliness. But they were not famous rabbis. They were young men loafing around town at night, people we “frum” Jews would normally disregard, and the biography of their saintly deeds will only be read in Heaven.
Chazal teach us that the Jewish people are compared to a pomegranate, for just as a pomegranate is full of seeds, even the Jews most empty (of religion) are full of mitzvos. These two vignettes are typical scenes on the streets of Israel, where those we might normally dismiss as empty people will sometimes put us to shame.
Would I have informed a secular-looking Jew that the chips are fleishig, just in case? Would I have been so kind and patient with that stranger intruding on my night out with a friend? I hope so, but I’m not so confident, and therefore they set an example for me.
As we are all hoping for a better year, let’s make fewer presumptions about others and their righteousness in the eyes of God, and try to see the good. It’s always there if you want to see it. Let us try to defend our fellow Jews, even those who don’t look most like us, and never prosecute.
Even those we might think are the most empty can shine like the most beautiful diamonds, if only we are willing to turn on the light.