“The Torah’s Charm School” by Prof Gerald August
If a someone developed a skin condition, he would go to a priest, not a doctor, for diagnosis. There was a protocol that told him how to check the condition. The priest was told to, “Look…and behold!”The Torah says this 20 times. Why so many times? And since he is already looking, why do we need the word behold?
We look at things all the time, but do we really see them? Not if you just glance, or your mind is somewhere else. The classic example is when Moses saw a bush burning. Then the Torah tells us “Behold! The bush was not consumed.” If Moses had just looked and turned away, he would have missed the whole picture. To behold means to concentrate on what (or who) is in front of you.
The challenge for us is to do this every time we interact with someone. Do we pay attention with our eyes and our ears? Have you been at a party where you were introduced to someone and while you were speaking that person was looking elsewhere? No attention was being paid to you.
A few years ago I was on the phone with my friend David. At one point an e-mail popped up and I was reading while he was talking. David asked “Are you multitasking?” I sheepishly replied, “Yes”. The phone clicked in my ear as he hung up! I sat there stunned, and then realized David had done me a big favor. He dramatically called attention to my rudeness. Since then, whenever I get a phone call, I swivel my chair around to look at the floor so I can concentrate on what the person is saying.
Paying attention fulfills the mitzvah of respecting people. It says” You are worth my time and what you are saying matters.”
Many years ago I read a book written by the daughter of a famous Hollywood star. There is one paragraph I still remember. Talking about the biggest star of her time, she said, “Clark Gable was the most charming person I ever met. When you talked to him, he listened with both ears and both eyes. He made you feel that what you said, no matter how trivial, was the most important thing in the world. Truly, Clark Gable was the most charming person I ever met.”
The numerous repetitions of “Look…and Behold!” teaches all of us how to be charming every day. Move over, Clark. You have company.
This is in memory of my mother whose yartzeit is this Shabbat.