Be gentle, not judgmental

By Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg
Parashat B’ha’alotecha

This week’s sedra, B’ha’alotecha, describes Moses as “a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth” (Numbers 12:3). An accompanying midrash is premised upon the unusual spelling of the Hebrew word used for humble in this phrase.

The Hebrew word for humble is anav, typically spelled with four Hebrew letters: ayin, nun, yud, vav. In the above referenced phrase, it is spelled without the yud. The midrash suggests that the missing yud was a sign of Moses’ humility. Moses chose to exclude the yud because the yud is the first letter in God’s name. He didn’t want anyone to consider he might be so brazen as to compare himself to God.

The rabbis then ask, “Where did the yud go? It is buried deep in the soul of every Jew.” The “pintele yud” became the ‘Pintele Yid.’ Every Jew is blessed with a spark of God’s presence deeply embedded in his/her soul: “Ner Adonai nishmat adam” (Proverbs 20:27), “The candle of God is the soul of a person.” Our collective responsibility is to discover that spark in each other and nurture its potential.

My early summer reading led me to complete another of Malcolm Gladwell’s bestsellers, “Talking to Strangers.” Beginning in Texas and extending to college campuses across our nation, he weaves together another astonishing story that reveals a truism: We don’t know how to speak to strangers.

Whether it is the local cop attempting to defuse a challenging situation or a student at a frat party, we misread one another constantly. Each of us bears a host of biases. Those prejudices cloud our vision.

I will never forget my first visit to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. A series of images are displayed on kiosks upon arrival. People of every skin tone and imaginable dress are presented. Then, two doors appear before every individual leading to the entrance of the museum. One door is labeled “Prejudiced” and the other “Not prejudiced.” The door labeled “Not prejudiced” is locked — everyone must enter through the other door and acknowledge their imperfections.

The rabbis teach us, “Dan et kol ha’adam l’chaf z’chut,” judge others favorably (Pirkei Avot 1:6), May this charge inspire us to be more gentle, less judgmental and more welcoming to all, especially to those we think we can “read.”

Rabbi Stefan Weinberg serves Congregation Anshai Torah.

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