Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

I was recently reminded of an incident that happened over 30 years ago. In the English-speaking beis midrash where I learned, smoking was strictly forbidden. The Israelis who davened with us respected the rule even with, according to their cultural predisposition, they couldn’t quite understand it.

On one occasion, a young Israeli new the community lit up right after davening. I was standing near by and asked him politely to put out his cigarette. He waved me away without breaking his conversation. I asked him again, this time more forcefully. This time he complied, extinguishing his cigarette on my sleeve. The other Israeli with whom he had been speaking was considerably more outraged than I was. The young man shrugged his shoulders and walked away with a chuckle.

I didn’t see this young fellow often, but on the infrequent occasions I did I made a point of setting my face into the fiercest scowl I could manage.

It must have been nearly a year later, possibly in Elul, although I can’t say for sure. I was walking along one Shabbos afternoon and spotted the young man coming toward me. As I prepared to scowl at him, I suddenly asked myself what I hoped to accomplish. Surprising myself as much as him, I relaxed my expression and said, “Gut Shabbos.” I don’t remember whether or not he answered me.

Less than a week later there was a knock on my door. Guess who? Yes, it was the same young man holding a stack of seforim in his hands. He offered them to me, and I gave him a quizzical look. He said he wanted to ask forgiveness for the incident with the cigarette.

How little effort it required to restore shalom! How great a reward for so tiny an investment. And yet, how difficult was it for me to make the decision to turn my scowl into words of greeting.

Perhaps, if we thought more about how much we can accomplish through such small expenditures of effort, we would find it easier to set aside our petty egos and choose to do what’s right.

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Originally Posted Aug 28, 2008

3 comments on “Offering Up Our Egos on the Altar of Elul

  1. Rabbi,

    Instead of letting the fire burn “out of control”, you “extinguished” it by putting out the “fire” of strife, and kindling a new “fire” of Shalom, that will hopefully burn for Eternity!


  2. Rabbi Goldson, imagine how hard this is for those of us with … “ego” issues! But I too have had similar experiences, and when the other person comes around — perhaps even more so for “those of us” from whom vitur is certainly not expected — it’s like hitting the jackpot in Vegas. You end up with a friend instead of an enemy. The former add to your life and energy, the latter only detract from it. Life’s too short.

    Man, even then when I read your story I was already imagining slugging the guy…

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