If only we would focus our thoughts on one simple word our personal and public lives would be significantly different. That word is: ramifications. If we would just take a brief moment before we do or say something and think what the ramifications of that word or deed will be how much more pleasant and productive our lives would be.

A case in point: It’s not every day that hundreds of Yidden find themselves spending a week in close proximity to many non-Jews some of whom may have never met a Yid before. The Pesach hotel business provides just such a venue. Hundreds of Yidden converge on a facility staffed by dozens of non-Jewish workers who are there to service their well-paying guests over a holiday that seems to be filled with the strangest customs. How these workers are treated and spoken to and the conduct that they witness may constitute their picture of what Orthodox Jews are like for the remainder of their lives.

Participating in such a venue with more than a thousand wonderfully behaved Yidden I had the opportunity to bring this simple idea of “ramifications” to their collective attention. I provided two contrasting examples that took place within a couple of days of each other.

During the second Seder a waitress who was carrying a tray of bowls of soup tripped over a child’s toy on the floor and almost dropped her whole tray. Despite her best efforts some of the bowls spilled and the hot soup spilled all over her shirt. She quickly cleaned herself off to the best of her ability and continued working. A short while later a woman at one of the tables approached the Hispanic waitress and said to her “I could not sit here enjoying my holiday meal while you have to work the rest of the night with a wet and dirty shirt so I went back to my room” — she climbed 11 flights — “and got this brand new silk blouse. I planned to wear it later in the holiday but it’s the same black color as your shirt so please take it and put it on. It’s yours to keep and take home with you.” When the waitress recounted this story the next day she could not stop crying at the kindness shown to her by this wonderful Jewish woman who personified Kiddush Hashem.

I contrasted this with an unfortunate incident that happened at breakfast one day of Chol Hamoed. A man was waiting impatiently at the omelet station alongside his wife and two small children for the waitress to finish making his omelet. She was clearly not very experienced at this task and was taking an extra few minutes trying to get it right. When she finished making the omelet she placed it on a plate and handed it to the now very impatient guest. Due to her inexperience the omelet fell apart on the plate. Enraged the man took the plate and turned it over dumping the broken omelet on the feet of the waitress who made it right in front of his wife and children.

The only similarity between these two contrasting stories is that both waitresses couldn’t stop crying. One cried because she was overwhelmed by the kindness of a stranger and the other cried because she was utterly humiliated.

Let’s focus for a moment on the ramifications of those actions. The first waitress will spend the rest of her life telling people how wonderfully kind Orthodox Jews are — an expression of “baruch Elokei Shimon ben Shetach.” Needless to say the “omelet maker” will have very different impressions to share.

A tale of two interactions and two vastly different ramifications that were not only apparent immediately but will continue to reverberate for eternity.

As Yom Tov went on I began to feel that for the most part my message missed its mark and really had no impact on anyone. Then along came a family friend from Woodmere who shared with me an incident that happened with her ten-year-old daughter Meira Mendlowitz a fifth grader at Bnos Bais Yaakov in Far Rockaway.

One morning on Yom Tov Meira went down to have breakfast before the rest of her family. She ordered her favorite omelet and thoroughly enjoyed it. Later her mother came down to breakfast and asked Meira to please bring an omelet for her little sister. It was quite a while until Meira returned with the omelet. She explained to her mother why it took so long. When she returned to where the omelet stations were she saw that several had no lines but the line where she had her omelet made earlier had several people waiting on line. Meira thought to herself if I go to a different station and the waitress who made my omelet earlier recognizes me and sees me on a different line she may think that I didn’t like the omelet she made for me. She then remembered what I had said about considering the ramifications of our actions. So she decided to wait on the same line as before even though it would take a bit longer so that the waitress wouldn’t feel bad.

What incredible sensitivity. What an incredible young lady — young in years but someone who can teach the rest of us how to think of the ramifications of our actions before we proceed. While it sounds simple enough it is far from simple. Even the greatest of our people fell short on some level in anticipating the ramifications of their actions.

Had three great people known that the Torah would record their actions for posterity Chazal tell us they would have done so much more. If Reuven had known that the Torah would write that he attempted to save Yosef from the hands of his brothers he would have carried him home on his shoulders. If Aaron Hakohein had known that the Torah would praise him for going out to greet his younger brother Moshe — who was chosen over him to be the redeemer — he would have gone out to greet him with musical instruments. And if Boaz had known that Megillas Rus would record that he gave Rus parched grain to eat he would have prepared for her fattened calves.

How are we to understand the fact that these great leaders of Klal Yisrael did not fully grasp the ramifications and significance of their actions? Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky explained that of course these three giants understood the significance of their actions but they thought these actions were only important for the present. They did not realize what ramifications their actions had for eternity. Had they focused a bit more on that they would have been inspired to do more.

An elderly Yid was very ill in the hospital and needed chizuk. Rav Avrohom Pam was a Kohein and could not enter the hospital to visit him personally so instead he wrote him a brief note with divrei chizuk and sent it to him. A short while later the man passed away. At the levayah a family member mentioned in his hesped how uplifted the man had felt when he received a personal letter from the Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaath and how he had kept this letter under his pillow. One of Rav Pam’s talmidim who was at the levayah repeated this to him expecting him to feel good about how much his letter had done for that elderly Yid. Instead however Rav Pam was very shaken up. “That letter only took me a few minutes to write ” he told his talmid “and look how much chizuk and comfort it brought to that Yid. If I had realized what the ramifications of that letter would be I would have written and done so much more. I hope that I am not going to have to answer for my actions in the Olam Haemes. ”

I often wonder: If the 24000 talmidim of Rabi Akiva who died during the days of Sefirah (due to what Chazal say was on some level a lack of kavod for each other) had anticipated the ramifications of their actions — that Klal Yisrael would mourn the tragedy of their deaths for 2 000 years — would they have acted differently? I truly believe they would have.

How can a person always keep a focus on the ramifications of his actions if even the greatest of our people fell short in this area? The Kopycznitzer Rebbe ztz”l offered a suggestion that can get us started.

The Kopycznitzer Rebbe Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel once visited the posek hador Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach at his home in Yerushalayim. At the conclusion of the visit Rav Shlomo Zalman — who was 30 years younger than the frail elderly Rebbe — escorted him down the stairs and out to the street. Rav Shlomo Zalman brought a chair for the Rebbe to sit on as he waited for his car to arrive but the Rebbe refused to sit down. After several pleas from Rav Shlomo Zalman to sit he explained why he could not do so. He said “My father taught me to imagine that in every situation I am being photographed and that the picture will be displayed in Heaven. How would the photo look Above with me sitting while the gadol hador Rav Shlomo Zalman is standing?” Rav Shlomo Zalman was so moved by the Rebbe’s sincere words that he repeated them for weeks afterward.

Maybe that’s the formula. Before we act or speak let’s take a minute to think how this “picture” would look now in Heaven and what the ramifications of our action or words will be. Who knows? It may just change our destiny for all eternity.

Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg is the rav of the Chofetz Chaim Torah Center of Cedarhurst and the founding rav of Ohr Moshe Institute in Hillcrest Queens. He is a published author of several sifrei halachah and a frequent contributor to many magazines and newspapers where he writes the Torah hashkafah on timely issues of the day. He is also a sought-after lecturer on Torah hashkafah at a variety of venues around the country. 

This article was written as a zechus l’illui nishmas Sara Chaya a”h bas Rav Aryeh Zev.