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Ekev 5782 ~ August 19, 2022

I heard a comedian this week share a truth in her standup routine that brings a great deal of understanding to our Torah reading for this Shabbat.  I will not try to recreate her joke. However, her question is a very valid one in relationship to expectations.

In her routine, she asked, “How many of you like to receive a compliment?” That is an easy answer and I would venture to say that all of us do. Then she asked how many of us give a compliment in order to have a compliment returned to us.  Is there an expectation that if someone gives you a compliment that you will turn and find something to return the compliment?

Take for example when you go out to dinner with friends. One friend says to the other, “Nice shirt! ” or “You look nice, love that handbag!” What is the one who receives the compliment required to do, or, shall I say, what is the expectation of the compliment giver?  And what happens if you do not return the compliment? What is the message that you are conveying to the other person? I’m hoping that one is being sincere and not expecting a return compliment.

In our Torah reading for this Shabbat, Moshe reminds the Children of Israel of how he came down from Mt. Sinai once they began worshipping the Golden Calf. Why did Moses come down the mountain? Most of us believe that he came down because he was so infuriated, as was God, that he needed to rebuke them for their actions.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, z”l, gives a different explanation. Rabbi Twerski suggests that Moses came down from the mountain to maintain his status and argue to God that Hashem could not annihilate them for their actions. Moshe became their defender par excellence.  Rabbi Twerski suggests that if we read Moses’s words correctly, he is stating that, as the leader of the people, he needed to maintain his status, pleading for their survival. In that regard, Moses had no expectations for himself. He only had consideration for the other. And while it might seem that Moses’s quite lengthy discourse may appear to be demanding - a thank you and compliment from the people - at that moment his only concern was to remind them of their history so that they would be mindful of their shortcomings and pitfalls, but also the opportunity that could be theirs.

And that is one of the lessons from this week’s Torah reading as best stated in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, “Antigonus of Sokho…this was one of his favorite teachings: Do not be like servants who serve their master; be rather like servants who serve their master unconditionally, with no thought of reward.”

So the next time you receive a compliment, what are the expectations? I will leave that answer to you as to what you might think is appropriate. But if we give a compliment, perhaps Moshe can be our model.

Thu, April 25 2024 17 Nisan 5784