Rabbi Hackenbroch, Gila, Family and Friends,
Shabbat Shalom and welcome to my Bat Mitzvah.
I would like to share with you a story of a young boy called David.
David was desperately poor; so poor that his parents couldn’t afford to provide him with more than the clothes on his back and one worn out pair of flip flops.
As he hurried home from the station, David tripped. And we all know what happens when you trip whilst wearing flip flops. That’s right; the sole came away from the front part of the strap, and although David tried again and again to mend his only pair of shoes, it seemed that after 3 years, the hole had grown too big, and the strap just would not stay.
As he continued to struggle, a boy his age walked past, bending down every few steps to polish a beautiful pair of new leather shoes. Oh, how David wished they could be his! The boy’s father hurried him to board the train that had just arrived, but in the frenzy of boarding, someone stood on his heel, and his new shoe came right off.
His father hurriedly pulled him onto the train. The doors closed, the bell started ringing, and David’s eyes lit up at the thought that this beautiful shoe could be his. Yet, as he ran towards the shoe, he caught sight of the boy’s dismayed face as he watched his precious new shoe slowly disappearing.
David made his decision. He grabbed the shoe and ran, desperately trying to keep up with the train to hand the boy his lost shoe. As the distance grew larger, David threw the shoe towards the boy…. but the shoe bounced off the side of the train to the ground.
And then, to his astonishment, David saw the boy on the train lean down and, with a tearful smile, pull off his other shoe, and throw it out the window to David.
Today I would like to talk about the power of humility and compassion for others, and its importance in Judaism. One of the best examples of this Middah (character trait) can be seen in this week’s parshah.
Rachel the Matriarch (Matri-ark) plays an important role in this week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayetze. We see Rachel do an act so great that she is the only one of the Avot or Imahot whose prayer for the redemption of her children, the Jewish people, is answered.
After working for Lavan for 7 years to marry his daughter, Rachel, Yaakov is tricked by his future father-in-law into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah. In fact, Rashi tells us that Yaakov suspected some trickery from Lavan, and pre-empted marrying the wrong sister by sharing some secret signs with Rachel which they planned to communicate with under the chuppah.
However, when Rachel heard of her father’s plans, she could not bear the thought of her sister’s pain and humiliation at being exposed like this before all the wedding guests as ‘the wrong sister’. Despite the fact that she had already lost one ‘beautiful new shoe’ in losing her chance of marrying the loving and righteous Yaakov for whom she had waited 7 years, Rachel had the humility and compassion to look beyond her own loss to the feelings of another, and give away her ‘other shoe,’ - the secret signs, so that her sister could enter this marriage without embarrassment.
In both of the above stories, what I find so powerful is the idea of looking past one’s own loss to such a great extent that you can instead be thinking about how you can use that loss to help another person. This is the essence of true humility and compassion.
Humility is understood to be one of the most important character traits in Judaism. However, the true meaning and power of humility is not always so well understood. We would generally think of a humble person as someone who doesn’t think too highly of themselves; doesn’t easily accept compliments; and who doesn’t speak too loudly about what they are good at.
Indeed, the dictionary definition of humility is: ‘the quality of having a low view of one’s importance.’
Judaism teaches us that true humility is not about putting ourselves down. It is about acknowledging our strengths and potential, whilst realising that these are G-d given gifts. When this becomes our focus, we naturally look towards how we can use these gifts to bring goodness to those around us, as Rachel used her compassion to help her sister.
The fact that Rachel was able to do such a great act of kindness towards her sister surely reflects the closeness of their relationship. A message I would like to take from this is the power of the relationship between sisters. I hope that I can work on my relationship with my two sisters in the same way and become close enough to be able to do such great acts of kindness towards them.
However, whether it’s between two sisters or two strangers at a train station, there is always an opportunity to use humility to look past yourself to enhance the lives of others.
A child learns the majority of their values from the home they have grown up in. I feel very blessed to have grown up in a family who strongly value the Middah of humility. I have learnt so much from watching my parents and the way they conduct themselves. They are always respectful of others and use what they have to put others before themselves, whether it’s within our community or to complete strangers.
Having been fortunate enough to have grown up in this environment, the importance of humility is something I feel very strongly about. As I go through the transition to Jewish adulthood, I feel that the Jewish understanding of humility is particularly important; an awareness of one’s strengths and where they come from is central to the journey of spiritual growth which I am now beginning as a Jewish adult.
Thank you for listening and Shabbat Shalom.