That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow
– the sage Hillel, quoted in Talmud Shabbat 31a
Hillel’s famous response to the non-Jew who requested that the sage teach him
the entire Torah while standing on one foot sounds uncomplicated – even obvious,
when you think about it – but its simplicity is deceptive, as the fellow could
have intuited from the admonition which followed: “That is the whole Torah. The
rest is commentary; go and learn.”
It may, in fact, take a lifetime to
absorb Hillel’s teaching, and constant effort and vigilance to live by it – such
is our very human nature, with its powerful impulse to do and get what we want
and (feel we) need at any given time, others and their needs be
Any day of the week offers an array of examples in which ordinary
people like you and me do to others what, one surmises, would be hateful to
them: pushing ahead in line; cutting others off in traffic; stealing parking
spaces; playing loud music or having the television on at high volume very early
in the morning or very late at night when neighbors are trying to sleep;
belittling others by interrupting them or shouting them down, and bullying
others to get their own way.
SOMETIMES WHEN I’m out and about – riding on
a bus, for instance – I look around at the other passengers sitting there and
reflect on how each individual is to him- or herself the epicenter of the
universe, with his or her desires and concerns looming largest. I fancy I can
see all those clamoring egos jostling each other like so many inflated balloons
vying for space, and wonder at how we humans manage to get along together in a
more or less civilized way, most of the time.
That happens because the
majority of us are aware of the need to show at least a degree of consideration
for others. It’s the only way society can function in any tolerable
Imagine if every person you met out walking shoved you rudely out
of the way; if no vehicle ever stopped to allow you to cross the road; if
getting attended to, whether in a bank, post office, government office or health
clinic, was solely a matter of who had the sharpest elbows, greatest bulk and
most persistent manner.
(Come to think of it, it was a bit like that in
Israel when I arrived here in the early 1970s. Public norms seemed much more
like a free-for-all where “survival of the fittest” ruled; and, as in the old
joke, you felt you had to be in robust health to visit your doctor’s office
because if you were ill, you just couldn’t take the strain. Today’s reality in
government offices and other official venues has – thanks to the blessed “take a
number” system – become a relative paradise of fairness and calm.)
IMAGINE,” a Jerusalem friend marveled at a recent item in the newspaper, “that
people should actually need a leaflet advising them to allow passengers on the
light rail to get off before they themselves board. You’d think they’d apply a
bit of common sense and wouldn’t require a piece of paper to tell them the
obvious,” Maybe, I countered, but the notion of kindness and consideration for
other people – even in such a trivial affair as letting them first off the train
or bus, or elevator – is something that has to be inculcated, preferably from an
Those adults one occasionally comes across who are plainly in
need of a course in common courtesy clearly weren’t exposed to it either at home
or in school, which is a great pity.
If I were education minister, I
would make sure that every educational institution, from kindergarten and
preschool up, gave a “kindness course” at every level.
As students became
more sophisticated, the content would widen to embrace ethics and other, related
fields. The material would never run out, and we would surely see the results in
successive generations – for whom letting passengers first off a train or bus
would be second nature.
THERE ARE many wonderful stories about the
exemplary empathy, kindness and consideration that Reb Aryeh Levin (1885-1969),
known as the “Tzaddik of Jerusalem,” had for others.
particularly appeals to me is about the time Reb Aryeh’s wife felt pain in her
foot and they went to the doctor together. When he asked, “What can I do for
you?” the rabbi answered, in all sincerity, “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting
It is told about Reb Aryeh that he would stay up until 2 a.m. every
night listening to disputes between married couples and helping to restore
domestic peace and harmony. When asked why he didn’t arrange for them to come to
his house earlier in the evening, he replied that couples with marital problems
worried about their reputations and preferred to come to him discreetly, in the
late hours of the night.
TALKING ABOUT peace and harmony, there are
situations in which, much as you would like, it is well-nigh impossible to act
considerately toward others.
One of them is when you renovate a home. You
may feel genuinely sorry about shattering your neighbors’ peace and quiet, but
in practice there isn’t much you can do about it.
And when life cracks a
joke at your expense, the only thing you can do is laugh.
As my husband
and I ruefully did at the beginning of this week, when we were awakened at 7:30
a.m. by the unmistakable cacophony of heavy construction equipment,
demolishing – which is what it sounded like – the apartment immediately beneath
our current one. The noise, like some giant dentist’s drill, carried on well
into the afternoon, with only intermittent lapses.
Belatedly we recalled
the polite notice pasted to the building’s door thoughtfully put up by the
people who just recently bought the apartment in question: “As your new
neighbors, we apologize for the noise and disruption caused by our home being
renovated. The work should take about two months.”
Two months! We had to
shrug our shoulders philosophically – because this cacophonous concert is
exactly what we have been subjecting our future neighbors to. For the past two
months, a renovation crew has bored, banged and battered its way through our new
home-to-be, to which we will move only in several weeks’ time.
thankful we felt that we weren’t compelled to live there while all the work was
going on, happy that we could wait it out in the peace and quiet of our present,
Until four days ago.
I can now
declare, without fear of contradiction, that the best alarm clock in the world
is a jackhammer or pneumatic drill operated just under your bed.
BEFORE this unwelcome change of fortune, we had been planning to give the
neighbors in our new location a small gift to thank them for their patience and
fortitude in the face of our lengthy home renovation.
We still aim to do
that – but I now believe we would have done better to present each of them in
advance with a gift-wrapped box of luxury earplugs – the kind that are
specifically designed for loud concerts, motorcycling and house demolitions.
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