Look around you! How many people are as smart as you? Are part of your social milieu? As cool as you? Many of us are tempted to dismiss most people around us as irrelevant to our lives. That’s a big mistake.
The Mishnah teaches that in order for schach to be valid, it must be a raw material that grows from the ground. The Gemara offers a number of reasons for the Mishnah’s stipulation, one of which is Scriptural. After beginning the construction of the Second Temple, Nehemiah gathers the people together in order to ascertain family lineage, including which kohanim are fit to serve in the Temple. Subsequently, he reads from the Torah that Ezra the Scribe wrote and the people burst out weeping.
Nehemiah comforts them and tells them that today, Rosh Hashanah, is a day of joy, not a day to weep. He then teaches them about the festival of Sukkot and instructs them to bring “myrtle leaves. . . and leaves of the braided tree.” The Gemara is perplexed by this instruction, since the myrtle leaves are from the braided tree, i.e. they are the same thing! Rav Chisda explains that the first reference was to irregular myrtles that are invalid for the mitzvah of the lulav. Such myrtles should be used as schach for the sukkah. The second reference was to kosher myrtles that were to serve the purpose of hadasim on the lulav.
Nehemiah’s expression of empathy powerfully comforted the people. Nehemiah said to them, ‘I know you feel crushed at this moment. Many of you feel that your families have been disqualified because you can’t prove your lineage. In addition, I have read the Torah to you and you feel overwhelmed and unworthy. But I want you to know that every person has an important role to play in this world. If you can’t be a myrtle for the lulav, you can still be a myrtle for the sukkah.’
Pirkei Avot teaches us to treat everyone with the utmost respect, “for there is no man who has no time.” Every individual has a special mission and purpose in this world. If not, G-d would not have created him. It is our job to respect every person and bring out the best in them. We must help them discover their special mission. In an army, different troops play different roles. But the general is useless without the privates.
Today I pledge to treat everyone with respect and endeavour to discover the unique talents and gifts that the Almighty has bestowed upon every individual, great and small.