Three men were working in a quarry cutting stones. The first one was asked what he was doing and he answered simply: I am cutting stones.
The second was asked the same question and answered: It's my livelihood. That is, he had a higher purpose than the first man. He was not just cutting stones but receiving compensation in order to buy food and clothing.
The third one was asked what he was doing and he answered: I am building a palace! He had the vision to see how his seemingly ordinary activity would create something big and important. The three of them were doing the same thing, but each one grasped the meaning of it in a different way.
Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks was accustomed to tell this story as a commentary on parashat Mishpatim that we read this past Shabbat. This parasha comes immediately after standing at Mount Sinai and it includes 53 mitzvot that are concerned with the small details of everyday life -- laws regarding employment and family matters, holidays and keeping kosher, Shabbat and tzedakah.
One moment after receiving the Torah, Rabbi Sacks explained, we were enjoined to take that experience into the midst of daily living. It's possible to look upon the mitzvot solely as a collection of technical acts, but a deeper look reveals that these acts are the means of perpetuating the eternal message of Mount Sinai.
In parashat Mishpatim, he explained, we receive 53 little stones and from them we build a palace.
Two stories about Rabbi Edelstein zts"l whose fourth yahrzeit was several days ago, illuminate the need to use the right mortar - loving one's fellow man as much as yourself - to keep the stones of the palace standing together.
Here are two little stories about him which demonstrate that you can always find another way.
Several years ago, during the Ten days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the rabbi changed his custom of performing the ritual of kapparot (slaughtering a chicken in atonement for our sins) in Ramat Hasharon and asked to be driven to Bnei Brak. "At this moment, there are demonstrations here against the kapparot ritual by an organization against animal cruelty," the rabbi said. "If we perform the ritual here, they will hold a protest in front of the synagogue in Ramat Hasharon, and this will cause unnecessary noise and disruption."
And here is a story within a story about sensitivity beyond sensitivity: He returned from his trip to Bnei Brak when the hour was late. The driver who drove him related the following: "I dropped him off next to his home and I saw that he was having trouble closing the car door, quietly struggling with it. I got out, approached him, and he said: "The neighbors are already asleep. If I slam the door, I might wake them. I am trying to close the door in the quietest way possible."
An attitude such as this also influences the other side. At Rabbi Edelstein's funeral, I walked together with tens of thousands who came from throughout Israel. "You know," I was told by one of Ramat Hasharon's elder citizens, "we are so accustomed to wars between the religious and the secular that we have forgotten that it's so easy to respect each other. Many years ago I first noticed that residents of our town would avoid driving down the street of the rabbi's synagogue on Shabbat. And this is Ramat Hasharon (a mostly secular town), no? But people preferred to take a detour and not drive down that street. In my opinion, this says a lot."
In my opinion, too. The problem is that many people often stubbornly take the opposite approach: to act forcefully and antagonistically, with defiance and recklessness. To think only about my rights and not about my obligations towards others. To speak all the time about my hurt feelings, without thinking about the hurt feelings of others. Perhaps there is another way?
In his memory.
*Translation by Yehoshua Siskin