He used to say:
Do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of any thing, for you have no person without his hour, and you have no thing without its place.
“He” is Shimon ben Azzai, a student and then colleague of Rabbi Akiva. Though a great scholar and teacher he was not officially ordained as a rabbi and therefore is not referred to as one in the Talmud. He eventually died a martyr’s death at the order of the Emperor Hadrian.
In a previous teaching ben Azzai advised that we need to be eager to attend to even minor mitzvot. Perhaps we can see this as a theme – that holiness and wisdom are to be found through attention to the small things of life and to the “lesser” people of the world.
Do not be scornful of any person.
Firstly – God alone is judge because God alone knows the heart, the circumstances, and the whole truth. It is not for us to judge others.
Secondly – We poison any possible relationship with another if we have scorn for them in our hearts. We then deprive ourselves of the possibility of learning something from them – perhaps something very valuable is lost to us.
Thirdly – every person is made in the image and likeness of God. Every person is therefore due honor and respect.
Do not be disdainful of any thing.
Even the most humble things have a purpose. Properly used and cared for they have a place in our lives and our world.
Perhaps looking at used and broken things – say an old television set – we might remind ourselves of the service it once provided us or others, we might remember those who labored to manufacture it and sell it and even repair it. We might think as well about how to dispose of it in an environmentally sound way.
No person without his hour.
Our world is full of unlikely heros who emerge from “nowhere” in a time of crisis to provide some crucial help. I think of Lenny Skutnick who dove into an icy Potomac River to try to rescue a victim of a plane crash. One might think of myriads of workers who provide all of us with services that we depend on but who remain behind the scenes: our garbage men, utility workers, and so many more.
No thing without its place.
A humble screwdriver hangs forgotten on the wall for years – but when you need it you are grateful and appreciative. A scrap of paper is destined to be swept up and discarded – until you need something to write down a message or phone number on.
Somehow, I confess that I cannot see it myself at this point, there is a point and purpose to mosquitos and gnats. Thank you LORD, for even these!