Our BS, eh?

A Canadian's musings on life in RBS-A (Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph), Israel and whatever else I feel like writing about.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Valuable Lesson from a Special Bar Mitzvah

Today I attended a bar mitzvah.  I didn't know it until they called the boy up...for Chamishi.  "Oh, it's his son," I think to myself.  It's a family I know cordially.  I already have my own opinion of who they are.  A frum family, sure.  But I see the way they dress, the way their kids dress, I know the schools they send their kids to, etc.  Let's just say they made choices I wouldn't have made, but hey, to each their own. 
 
In today's perek of Avos (2) we have the famous mishna, V'al tadun es chavercha ad sh'tagiyah limkomo. 
 
But I think everyone in some fashion sums up another person in his own mind.  It starts with the externals, since that's usually the first basis of information.  As you gain more information, your opinion is either confirmed or changed.  Am I wrong for doing this?  
 
You never know about someone.  And anyway, why is it my job to judge?  But then there's a voice in your head that goes, "Yeah, yeah, but you can tell about them, you know what they're about."  Of course I have never verbalized any of my opinions to anyone, nor have I allowed my preconceived notions to manifest themselves in any interactions I have had with them.  At least I hope not.  I always try to be friendly, and the father and I always have what to chat about.  The only judging going on is in my head, and it goes no further.  So it's a victimless crime. 
 
So today they call the boy up.  Funny, I have never seen this boy before.  I've only some of this guy's older children.  "Ah, so what," I think.  "I hardly see the older son in shul, so why should I be surprised I've never seen this son in shul?"  The kid goes up for his Aliyah and manages with obvious difficulty through the brachos.  And I'm thinking, "Geez, this kid can hardly even read Birkas HaTorah!  What is with these parents?!"
 
At the kiddush, no one from the family speaks.  A family friend gets up instead.  Choking back tears in every word, he says he's sure most of didn't realize the miracle we all witnessed today.  He then goes on to explain that when this bar mitzvah boy was born, his parents were told he wouldn't live past the age of 5.  He would never speak, he would never walk, he would never be able to do anything a normal child can do.  He'd be a vegetable his entire short life.  Today, he's 13, he walks, he speaks not one by 2 languages, English and Hebrew, and he just said Birkas HaTorah for his bar mitzvah. 
 
He went on to say how befitting it was for the boy's bar mitzvah to be on Parshas BaHa'alosecha.  The first Rashi tells us how Aharon felt bad he couldn't take part in the Chanukas HaNisi'im like all the other shevatim did.  Hashem reassures him by telling him he'll get a better job, lighting the Menorah in the mishkan everyday!  This bar mitzvah boy was not supposed to be able to do anything other children do.  But today he did, and everyday he does something even better.  Not only does he remind us what a blessing from Hashem it is to be able to do the most simple things we take for granted such as walking, speaking and reading, but moreover, he sets an example for all of us about striving to achieve one's potential.  Hashem doesn't judge us only by where we ARE.  It depends where we WERE and where we CAN BE.  Hashem doesn't expect the same achievements from everyone.  But He expects everyone's best. 
 
So for all my information gathering, the conclusions I had drawn, and my overall impression of others, I saw today how I had it all wrong.  My preconceived notions about the way these parents were raising their children made me think, "Geez, this kid can hardly even read."  Had I known better, I'd have thought, "Holy cow, this kid can read!"  Remember earlier how I said that the way I judged others only in my head was a victimless crime?  I'm wrong.  The victim is me.  What if that friend hadn't made that speech?  I'd have used today's event to further strengthen my misconception, and I'd have gone on thinking, well maybe not negatively, but maybe not so highly, of this family.  Today I had my eyes opened in a big way. 
 
But still, isn't it normal for a person to formulate opinions by what he sees and hears?  In this example, I clearly had come to the wrong conclusions.  But was it wrong in the first place to try to draw a conclusion from the information I had?  What's the lesson of that mishna in Avos?  Is it that you can never know the whole story, so be careful how you act toward others since your opinion might be incorrect?  Or is it that we should not formulate opinions in the first place?  Is that even possible?  What's your opinion? 

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