THE POWER OF "HELLO"
This past week at our Hebrew school, I made a suggestion to our students, one which I decided to practice this week.
"Be the first to say "hello."
I read it last week on a poster in someone's office. As well, during a recent trip to Israel, I noticed the incredible energy which emanated when a mentor wished complete strangers "Shalom" or "Boker Tov" (Good morning).
I attempted to put that word into action this week. Waiting for my coffee at Starbucks. Opening the door for someone at the grocery store. Saying "hello" for the first time to one of my neighbors as I dragged the trash to the curb.
The greetings were always met with a smile and a reciprocal "good morning" or "wow, thank you."
There is a saying in Pirkei Avot, a collection of wise teachings from our Sages, that we do not do something positive to receive a reward, yet, as most of us will attest, so often when we perform a Mitzvah, we receive an unexpected benefit in return.
As many of you know, I am a hockey fan. I find the idea of cheering on or even complaining about my teams to be exhilarating, if not purging.
I am also from Canada, and although I have a small share in New York Islander seasons tickets, my blood runs Montreal Canadiens red. This past week, the Canadiens were in town, and much to the chagrin of my ticket partner and some of the nearby Islander fans, I wore my beloved Montreal sweater with the name and autograph of my childhood idol, Bobby Rousseau.
As we walked towards our seats, I mentioned to my friend, that it remains one of my fantasies to one day share a carbonated beverage with Bobby Rousseau and talk about the old days.
Bobby Rousseau was the type of underdog player which captured a young boy's heart. He was not the best player on the team, but he tried so hard that he won the NHL Rookie of the Year award in 1962.
One game, he scored five goals, and on one occasion, when awarded a penalty shot, he panicked, and fired a slap shot from center ice - and scored.
I could relate.
So there I sat this past Tuesday night, with my Rousseau jersey, and a kippah with a Montreal Canadiens logo when to my surprise, up the stairs came an Orthodox Jew, wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey, and a black kippah. I said "hello, let's talk after the first period." He nodded.
After the first twenty minutes, I climbed the stairs where the gentleman and his family were seated. We talked a bit about hometown Montreal, a bit about Judaism, and also about hockey.
But we were interrupted. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was a tough looking gentleman from Montreal who in French asked me "why are you wearing that sweater?"
I explained that it brings back memories of my youth, of a player who tried hard and who was so often unsung.
And he answered, "Do you know that your favorite player's grandsons are sitting next to me?" The Rousseau boys live in Brooklyn where they compose music and play in a rock band.
And we spent the next intermission talking about "Grandpappa" and the old days. A photo was taken of our group, texted to Montreal. And an answer soon came back.
It was an invitation to visit a certain golf course next summer southeast of Montreal, for a free round of golf and a lesson with the owner, Bobby Rousseau. He wanted to thank me for remembering his name.
There is a saying in our home, that "good fortune does not drive up to your front door in a limousine and invite you to get in."
Sometimes we need to reach into life. We need to extend our hand.
How many wonderful friendships have we made while traveling, or in our synagogues, churches or other social settings, because someone took the initiative to say "hello."
The story I've shared is a bit self indulgent, but it serves to reinforce a life lesson. "Sometimes we need to go out in the world, where good fortune can find us."
This week, we begin the Jewish month of Nissan. It is technically the Jewish New Year, as we mark the Exodus from Egypt. While Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of creation, Nissan reminds us that freedom is our most cherished possessions.
Within the Passover Haggadah, in one of the more "boring pages" there exist two words which are among the most powerful within Judaism.
Tzei Ulmad, "Go Forth and Learn." It is part of the Jewish perogative to engage in life, to take chances, to learn something new each day, and to see what life brings when we initiate contact with the world and its inhabitants.
I'm looking forward to hearing from our students this Sunday on how their week went. Did they follow through on their homework to make this world a little bit better by being a little kinder?
Did they say "hello" to someone new?
This past week, I returned to my own childhood. So much of who we are still lives there. A young boy who worshipped a frantic hockey player whose memory has faded a bit in the shadow of the great superstars.
But this summer, Bobby Rousseau and I will slap a few golf balls around, and talk about the old times. And he will be the superstar who scored five goals in one game, and I will be wide eyed child once more.
It is the cycle of life, and there is beauty in every hour of every day. It is found in the past, and present, and in the days to come.
And as I recalled this week, there is a simple password which unlocks countless memories and opportunities. It is "hello."
How much can we learn when we "go forth and learn?"
Best wishes for a wonderful Shabbat. Let us have the courage to reach out into the world and take a chance. There is no telling who will tap us on the shoulder and make our dreams come true.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman