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Friday, 21 August, 2015 - 1:48 pm





In the middle of last week, I was in need of a book I had ordered previously. Confirmation of my purchase had been emailed to me about a month prior, but the book itself had not yet arrived.


It should not be too complicated, I thought. I called the number of the publishing company in New York, and the phone was answered almost immediately by a young lady.


The first words expelled out of this individual were, “[name of the company], can I help you?”


Her voice was snarky. It was as though I had just had the audacity to disturb her peaceful summer day. She sounded impatient and as though she was doing me the greatest favor by providing me the privilege of talking to her.


I have no idea who this person was. For all I know, she could have been experiencing a terrible day or a terrible situation. She sounded dreadful.


As this was not the first time a person in New  York answered a phone this way, I simply attributed this latest incident as a “New York thing.” I promptly responded with: “Hi! It is so refreshing that someone is offering to help me so nicely. I really appreciate this friendly gesture!”


The woman seemed confused and hesitant. She stammered as she said, in a somewhat softer tone, “What can I do for you?”


It did not seem to me that she understood what I was attempting to convey. It certainly did not bode well for my upcoming trip to New York last Friday.


When I arrived in New York, though, I was pleasantly surprised – stunned actually – by the exact opposite behavior. I had landed in LaGuardia airport, and was catching a bus. I attempted to purchase a bus ticket in the machines at the airport, but those machines are not user-friendly for those who are unfamiliar with its system. I was unable to purchase a simple one-way ticket, when the bus arrived. I had to catch this bus. I placed my head into the doorway of the bus, and asked the driver whether he would accept cash or a credit card, because I was unable to purchase a ticket.


The driver said, “Hey, it’s okay. Just get on the bus. Forget about the ticket.”


Now that was amazing. Seventy-five people must have been crammed into that bus. None of them get on it without that card. And what a contrast to an unhelpful, irascible, and abrasive attitude from that woman!


Unless something really awful is happening, there should be no reason for one to be unhelpful and unpleasant. The bus driver realized that a passenger was unable to spend two dollars and fifty cents on an unfriendly machine. This minuscule amount of money, from a lone passenger, was not going to harm the bus company. Consequently, it would not make him be unfriendly and unhelpful.


Every person is granted the freedom to choose to be in control of him or herself. One can choose to be pleasant to others, and one can choose to be not nice. It is not a “New York thing,” but a human thing. This point is also underscored in this week’s Torah portion, “Shoftim.”


In its laws regarding testimony, the Torah distinguishes between capital offenses and monetary offenses. In the Torah’s words: “The one liable to death should be put to death only by the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses. He should not be put to death by the testimony of one witness.” (D’varim (Deuteronomy) 17:6.) This verse teaches, as Jewish law makes it clear, that the court must not execute a person or administer the punishment of lashes through one’s own admission. It must only be “By the testimony of two witnesses.” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 37,b. See also Maimonides end of chapter 18, laws of Sanhedrin.) In monetary cases, however, admission of guilt is a binding testimony. This is because the Torah emphasizes the testimony of the two witnesses specifically regarding the death penalty cases.


The difference between death penalty cases and monetary cases makes sense: According to the Torah, the human body does not belong to a person. True, a person’s body is personal. It is up to each individual to look after his or her own body, take care of it, administer it, and use it for all the right reasons. Essentially, though, despite living with and through the body, it is Divinely gifted to all people. It is, so to speak, on loan. The Torah pays great attention to the human body in areas of (kosher) food, modesty, morality, and not to physically damage the body, including getting tattoos.


Monetary possessions, however, belong totally to the human owner. The Almighty gives each individual control and ownership of material possessions in trust to be used for all the right reasons. True, the entire world belongs to the Heavenly Boss, but He decided to give the person visible control over material possessions, with far fewer regulating rules for possessions than the body.


And so, the body in intrinsically holy, and it therefore comes with many rules and regulations as to how this divinely sanctified element should be considered. The worldly possessions, on the other hand, were given to humans. It is up to them to elevate and to consecrate those possessions.


A human body is created in the mold and in the image of G-d. As such, each person is required to look after this gift. The choice is given as to how to treat one’s possessions, but not how to treat one’s own physique. A person, in any place or time, should constantly have the focus on appearing divine-like.


This would include, of course, making the choice to be Divine-like towards fellow man. I am not sure what the woman was thinking, but she, and all of us, can learn a powerful lesson from that bus driver in New York: his choice to act wonderfully was using his presence in this world for all that is right and Divine.



SUMMARY: While money and possessions are considered owned by humans, the human body is Divine and divinely owned. Some choose their behavior to reflect this.



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