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Sunday, 9 November 2014

You don't get a second chance to make a first impression

Daf Yomi Yevamos 36

Simon was upset about my High Holy Day sermons.  “All you ever talk about is politics and money.  Why can’t you talk about spirituality?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, you spoke about Premier Prentice and at Kol Nidrei you made an appeal for funds.  That’s not the job of the rabbi!”
“What about the second day of Rosh Hashanah when I addressed the big question of the purpose of creation and why we are here on earth?” I exclaimed, “What about the hours on end I explained the connection between the High Priest’s service and our own service of G-d?”
“Oh, I wasn’t there for those,” Simon responded meekly. 

The Mishnah states:  A lady’s husband and co-wife went overseas.  Witnesses arrived and testified that the husband died.  She may not remarry or do the levirate marriage until she ascertains whether the co-wife is pregnant.

The Gemara asks: I understand why she may not do the levirate marriage, since if indeed her co-wife has a healthy child, the levirate marriage will be unnecessary and therefore incestuous.  But why may she not do chalitzah (the annulment of the levirate marriage)? 

Abaye bar Aba and Rabbi Hinena bar Abba both answer:  For if there is in fact a healthy child, we would need to announce that the chalitzah was unnecessary and she may even marry a cohen.  (A cohen may not marry a divorcee or one who has undergone chalitzah.  If this lady’s co-wife had a child, then she would be considered a regular widow and permitted to marry a cohen). 
The Gemara asks: Fine, so let’s make the announcement!  What’s the problem?
The Gemara answers: Maybe someone will have been present at the chalitzah and absent for the announcement (that the chalitzah was unnecessary) and thus assume that a woman who has undergone chalitzah may marry a cohen! 

Why is it our problem if they weren’t there when we made the announcement?  If they left shul early, isn’t that their problem?

We’re all familiar with the expression, ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.’   The Talmud here is teaching us a lesson about the importance of making sure every encounter stands up to scrutiny on its own merit.   If we are issuing a proclamation, we better be sure that we’re saying the optimal thing, because there’s a possibility that not everyone will be there in the future should we want to retract our original statement.

In the case of my sermons, Simon was right.  I couldn’t expect that everyone would be there for every sermon and judge the seasonal presentation as one large package.  Each sermon had to stand on its own merit as a message of spirituality and inspiration.  If any individual sermon failed to meet that expectation, I had indeed failed in my mission.

As a committed Jew, you are an ambassador of the Almighty on earth.  Any person that you encounter must be able to point to you and say ‘This is a wo/man of G-d!’  There’s no opportunity for downtime; no chance to make a second impression.  How you speak, act and interact today is what counts.  You can’t expect that the person will be back the next day to judge you.   And remember that when they are judging you, they are judging G-d.  The way they perceive you – if you are indeed a proud person of faith – is the way they perceive the Almighty.

Be your best every time.  People are watching you.  The world is watching you.  And you will make the Almighty proud every time!