The Mishna says, “Who is wise? He who learns from all people.” The idea is that if you are looking for knowledge, you can find it in the most unexpected of places. It also means that you don’t only learn from tzaddikim and Gedolim, or people that you feel are worthy of your respect, but also from simple people and sometimes even evil ones.
Learning from someone doesn’t necessarily mean they gave a lecture that you attended. If you recall, R’ Meir was criticized for actually going to learn from a teacher who was unfit, but the Gemara defends him by explaining that he knew how to eat the fruit and throw away the peels, i.e., the incorrect beliefs of his Rebbi. But most of us will still have the opportunity to learn from others. Sometimes we’ll learn what to do, and sometimes we’ll learn what not to do.
The reason a person who learns from anyone is a Chacham is because it’s not about the teacher, but the student. If we’re eager to gain insight, we will find it everywhere. We can even learn from inanimate objects. R’ Akiva saw a stone that had been worn away and inferred that Torah could make an impact on him. Well, I’m no R’ Akiva, but this week, that’s what I’m offering.
As I said before, you don’t only learn from great, noble and righteous people. Not too long ago, I took a valuable lesson from a real sack of trash. Now, before you get all upset at me for bashing people, let me explain. This was a LEGITIMATE SACK OF TRASH, like made by Glad or Hefty, which I was taking out of my kitchen and bringing to our garbage cans outside.
As the husband and father in a home where I’m the only one with a Y chromosome (meaning I’m the only male), certain things have become my responsibility more frequently than others. “Dad, please come change the garbage/kill this spider/clean up this icky mess that I don’t want to go near. Ewww!”
So, when the garbage in the kitchen is full, I’m usually the one who changes it and takes the full bag outside. I know how often bags are prone to ripping, even when you get the extra-flex ones, so I’m very careful when I do it. Well, one day I saw the bulging bag and knew this was going to be heavy. I prepared myself psychologically, and then I gingerly lifted the can out of the holder. Instantly, I realized something was wrong! The bag nearly flew out of my hands and hit the ceiling. It was extremely light!
Maybe there were bunches of bubble wrap or pieces of parchment paper in there, but though it was bulging, there was very little actual meaningful waste in there. I know, you’re thrilled by the garbology lesson and delving into what goes into my kitchen garbage (probably like the mysterious person who takes two boxes of my recycling each week before recycling truck comes) but you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you?
Well, we are constantly yearning for Moshiach and an end to the Galus. But do you know what else happens when Moshiach comes? We stop having a Yetzer Hara and that means we are no longer earning the big points for fighting him and doing what’s right. We will pretty much have in our Olam HaBa accounts whatever we put in them before Moshiach came. Which brings me back to the garbage bag.
Looking at the bulging bag, I imagined it was weighed down and laden with all manner of foodstuff remnants, real meat and potatoes, and would require heavy lifting. Instead, it was just so much fluff taking up space. What a parallel to life!
Sometimes we fill our bags with things that are meaningless. Sure, at the time they seem important, but when it comes right down to it, they just give the illusion of a full life. The things the world tells us to chase won’t carry much weight in the world of truth, where all is revealed. That outfit you had to have; the part in the play you coveted so much; that job and the money you were driven to attain so people would see you as successful; all these things may fill up your life, but they don’t really have substance.
Instead, we should make sure we are packing for the future with Torah, mitzvos, and chesed. We should put people in our bags (figuratively, of course) by loving them and positively impacting lives, and then their good deeds will be counted towards our accumulations as well.
Love of Hashem and His people is real, and though it’s quite filling and fulfilling, it doesn’t take that much heavy lifting. So yes, we can even learn from what people normally throw away, just how important it is to properly value the things we choose to hold on to.
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