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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Honoring others by washing my face

We’ve been studying the middah (soul trait) of  kavod (honor) in synagogue this month – honoring self and honoring others. My ability to honor others was put to the test when I attended a lecture where the speakers had a worldview that was 180-degrees from mine. They were missionaries, Christian believers who traveled to third world countries to preach. They built churches, urged tribal leaders to pray to Jesus for the birth of a daughter, and distributed Bibles on the streets. One talked about spreading the gospel in slums while staying in a five-star hotel. I cringed as I thought: Couldn’t their efforts be better spent providing medical care, child care or clean water?  Were they doing any good, truly helping others?

Suspending judgment was the biggest obstacle I faced in honoring these speakers. Who was I to judge whether they were doing any good? The lecture venue was not appropriate for challenging or questioning…they were guests in our spiritual home. So I listened, fidgeted and waited for the uncomfortable experience to be over. The event has been the source of discussion and reflection ever since.

How could I honor my own values and my own belief system while still honoring those with such different ones? Could I honor their intentions if not their actions? Could I honor that their worldview worked for them?

I thought about my own experiences. I have visited poor countries in Africa, brought school supplies….and stayed in very nice lodges.

On Monday, I leave for a trip to Ecuador and Brazil. Again I will be bringing school supplies and touring native schools and villages, some of which will be quite poor. I’ll be staying in lovely AirBnBs. Maybe being so quick to judge comes from my own guilt about being born a privileged, white American with the ability to choose where I live and where I stay when I travel.

Looking through my files for guidance, I found this teaching shared by Rabbi David Jaffe:

Shalom Noach Barzofsky (The Slonimer Rebbe), an  excerpt from a  commentary on Pirkei Avot 4:1  “Who is dignified? One who gives dignity to all people” is teaching that the gaze of one person to another is like glancing in the mirror – if his face is dirty he will see in the mirror a dirty face. So it is the same when a person looks at the other – the amount that he is pure and refined internally, so he will look more generously upon the other and see good attributes. On the other hand, if he is infected with bad attributes and behaviors, so he will see bad attributes in everyone else.  Therefore, the truly dignified person is the one who treats all people with dignity, who appreciates all people. This behavior is the true sign that he is dignified himself.”

My kavod practice: To honor my own intentions and feelings of guilt, so I can treat others with dignity and appreciation.

My mantra: Wash your face.

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