We are told that 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they didn’t show proper respect toward one another. To understand what this means let’s take a look at what happens during class. Recently, as I was teaching, one boy raised his hand to ask a question. When the class heard the question, they realized that it was very foolish and made absolutely no sense and therefore they burst out in laughter. Little did they realize that they had thereby embarrassed the student and he would most likely not want to ask any more questions fearing that he would again be insulted by the class.
Unfortunately, such behavior is quite common even in the best of yeshivas. There is often a great lack of respect for a fellow classmate. If a student fails a test he is often ridiculed instead of helped. If he is not good in sports he is often not chosen into the game. Woe to the one who makes an error in a game. Often, he’ll never hear the end of it. Here’s a story that we all should read.
One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Yossi. It looked like he was carrying all of hisseforim and books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.” I had quite a Shabbos planned, so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.
As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran into him, knocking all his seforim and books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw a terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said, “Hey thanks! Thanks ever so much” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude and apreciation. I helped him pick up his seforim and books, and asked him where he lived.
As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had just moved in. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Sunday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung around together and the more I got to know Yossi, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him. Monday morning came, and there was Yossi with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “You are really going to build your muscles with this pile of seforim and books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books.
Over the next four years, Yossi and I became best friends. When we were seniors, I began to think about bais medrash. Yossi decided on Lakewood, and I was going to Brisk. I knew that we would always be friends, and that the miles would never be a problem. Yossi was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak. Graduation day came and Yossi looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses.
Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech, so I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those grateful looks and smiled. “Thanks,” he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. “Graduation is a time to thank those who helped me make it through those tough years: My parents, my teachers, my siblings, but mostly my friends.”
“I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.”
I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He said that he had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so that his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile.
“Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”
I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy, told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its meaning. Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life for better or for worse. Hashem puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way. Look for the good in others and they will find the good in you. “Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”
קנה לך חבר אבות