Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa used to say:
If the spirit of one’s fellows is pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is pleased with him;
but if the spirit of one’s fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is not pleased with him.
My first reaction to this saying – “whoa, wait a minute!” This sounds like a popularity contest here, with the winners declared saints! That’s not at all what the rabbi is suggesting.
In line with the previous saying – if those who know you best and intimately have respect and love for you – so does God. If those who know you best and intimately DON’T have respect and love for you – neither does God.
The key, you see, is that element of “those who know you best”.
We live in a world where public relations reigns. Today our world is a world where we don’t know one another well at all, a world where it is very possible for a person to pretend to be one thing while really being another. That person goes on to commit a serious crime and we are all surprised – “He seemed so nice!” Every crime report on the TV news seems to include such a statement from a surprised neighbor! The reality is that we thought we knew them but in reality did not.
In a world like ours today – popularity amongst acquaintances means nothing.
But with those who know us best???? In this case the respect and love count for something. To have real respect and love from one’s spouse and children and neighbors and employees and co-workers – those we come into meaningful contact with each day for large parts of the day – now THAT means something.
It means that we are living lives and doing things (acts of charity and kindness, study and more) that are consistent with the wisdom of the scriptures and the will of the divine.
Notice that it does not say “all” of our fellows – it has always been true that “you can’t please everyone” nor should we! There will always be that hyper-critical in-law, that devious co-worker plotting his or her own advancement at your expense, or that lazy employee who resents warranted correction. The rabbi is giving us guidance – not some rigid principle that does not admit exceptions.
Who do you have meaningful contact with each day? Do you respect and love these folks? Do they respect and love you?
Meaningful contact seems to be more and more rare these days doesn’t it?? If we work remotely, shop on-line, etc. we can end up not really dealing in person with others very much. We gain convenience and time, we lose that human interaction that let’s others know us and for us to know them.