I can’t believe myself. I’m shriveling with embarrassment. I’m seventeen, in high school, and I now know the meaning, the implications, and the ramifications of being rude.
It’s Friday, and I stopped into one of Crown Heights supermarkets to pick up some challah rolls. I’m standing, shoveling rolls into a plastic, and suddenly there’s a man there, in my place.
I move aside, annoyed. My friend and I remain standing 3 feet away, waiting for him to move on. And I say, in what I thought was an inaudible whisper, being that it was typically noisy in that supermarket: “…like..I mean, you can say excuse me… My mother always taught me to say excuse me. Whatever, I’m just saying, like I don’t know who raised you.”
It was said in one of those loose-tongue moments – those quick, impulsive, terrible moments where your mouth speaks the brain without first filtering, and you only suffer the consequences after you realized what you’ve done.
I said it without thought, I said it loud enough and blunt enough to satisfy my annoyance, to yeild to the thrill of acknowledging my feelings, yet (what I then thought was) comically discreet lest anyone overhear.
I walk back to the challahs, plastic in hand, and start to filler up again. The man is there too, but more on the side, and he turns to me, an apologetic, controlled expression on his face. “I did say excuse me… just you didn’t hear. ”
Ground. Open. Now. I’m not breathing. I’m just not. I have no idea what to do with myself. My mind is whirling, heart skipping. He heard me! I mutter a flat: “Oh. I’m..so sorry…” and I turn a nasty shade of scarlet.
We go our separate ways. I’m not sure I’ll ever meet him again. But I sure won’t forget him.
I write this for two reasons.
Number one: Rabbi, I need to apologize. I don’t know you. I don’t know when or if our paths will cross, but I can’t bear to believe that I insulted you, your mother, and I can’t live with that look you gave me. I was just, simply, rude. I’m suffering from embarrassment, cringing at my arrogance, and shaking from the knowledge that I could stoop so low. I hope that I can be forgiven.
Number two: Fellow friends, Chassidim, Jews, to people like me. Being rude comes from arrogance. It’s a sin. Don’t. Oy. Just don’t do it. It’s wrong, it’s rude, it’s disgusting. To think that I thought myself a mentch. Even if you happen to be good at it, where people don’t hear you, where it’s said in private and you don’t run into embarrassing, awkward scenes, one of the basics of Yiddishkeit, one of the musts that will bring Moshiach, is Ahavas Yisroel. When you talk, if you must mention another person, imagine that person standing in front of you as you do so. I’m speaking to myself, outloud.
I had a bad experience, and yet a truly growthful one. I didn’t think I was like that. I really didn’t. I want Moshiach, I love Hashem, I love people. I have a Yetzer Hara though, and I woke up. I saw myself from outside of myself, allowing for a deeper awareness, and a thorough introspection. I need work. We all do. And we sometimes fall and make stupid mistakes, the key is to get back up. To do the work. To keep refining ourselves and our surroundings until we finally are Redeemed.
Rabbi, thank you. Thank you so much. I hope the fact that I will now be extra careful, and try my best, is a sufficient enough apology.