How much is a small gesture worth?
Consider the following:
Children are on the school bus on the way home from a grueling day at school. The bus driver barks at the children. The children’s already edgy mood is exacerbated. They come home and fight with their siblings, which seriously aggravates their mother. She takes it out on her husband, who, in turn, kicks the cat.
The poor cat got kicked because the bus driver yelled at the kids.
The Torah teaches us the results of our actions in a surprising place.
Expounding on the verse in this week’s Torah portion, “A bribe you shall not take,” the Talmud tells several fascinating stories about how careful the Rabbis were not to take bribes.
The Talmudic sage Shmuel was walking across a bridge. A certain man approached him and gave him his hand for support. Making small talk with the man, Shmuel asked him, “What brings you to town?” The man answered that he had a lawsuit to be tried in Shmuel’s court. Shmuel immediately replied, “I cannot judge you!”
The small favor of assisting him in crossing the bridge was enough to be considered a bribe in Shmuel’s eyes, to the extent that he felt the need to recuse himself from the case.
Other examples include rabbis refusing to judge cases because one of the parties removed a feather from the rabbi’s head or covered up spittle that was before him.
While these examples may seem extreme, the simple lesson is how carefully one must avoid even the appearance of partiality when tasked with the responsibility of judging between two parties.
But there may be a deeper lesson as well. The Talmud is impressing upon us the degree to which minor acts of kindness affect us and our state of mind. Surely we all can remember when we were in a bad place, and a small gesture, a kind word, or a compliment brightened our mood and changed how we felt.
By telling us that such gestures can be considered bribes, the Talmud is teaching us both how appreciative we must be as the recipients of small kindnesses and how we should use every opportunity to practice small acts of kindness that can brighten someone’s day.
Consider our initial scenario in reverse, and realize that small, random acts of kindness can create a butterfly effect that produces an outpouring of goodness in the world.
Go ahead and try it. Somewhere out there, a cat will thank you.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.