Small Miracles

I'm currently re-reading the book "Small Miracles" by Yitta Halberstam & Judith Leventhal -- it's a collection of stories similar to what you might read in "Chicken Soup for the Soul," but all of these stories explore the coincidences of life and whether or not they might actually be divine intervention. And while it has a slightly spiritual tone to it, it's not centered on one religion or another -- rather some stories have Jewish slants, others Christian and most secular. It's a fantastic read, especially for someone like me who is currently at odds with the idea of religion, and something I'd recommend to anyone needing some inspiration.

On the note of inspiration, there was one particular story that really touched me this evening and I wanted to share it with you. This excerpt is from pages 81-83 of the book:

"In the 1930s, Rabbi Samuel Shapira, the distinguished chief rabbi of the Polish village of Prochnik, was in the habit of taking long, invigorating walks into the countryside. The rabbi, who was known for his warm, loving and compassionate ways, always made a point of greeting everyone whose path he crossed -- Jew and non-Jew alike -- and, adhering to a Talmudic dictum, always tried to greet them first.

One of the people he regularly greeted on his daily walks was a peasant by the name of Herr Mueller, whose farm lay on the outskirts of the town. Every morning, Rabbi Shapira would pass the farmer as he diligently worked in his fields. The rabbi would nod his head and expansively boom in a hearty voice, 'Good morning, Herr Mueller!'

When the rabbi had first embarked on his morning constitutional and had begun greeting Herr Mueller, the farmer had turned away in stony silence. Relations between Jews and gentiles in this village were not particularly good, and friendships were rare. But Rabbi Shapira was not deterred or discouraged. Day after day, he would greet the silent Herr Mueller with a hearty hello, until, finally convinced of the rabbi's sincerity, the farmer began returning the greeting with a tip of his hat and a hint of a smile.

This routine went on for many years. Every morning Rabbi Shapira would call out, 'Good Morning, Herr Mueller!' And every morning Herr Mueller would tip his hat and yell back, 'Good Morning, Herr Rabiner!' This scenario stopped when the Nazis came.

Rabbi Shapira and his family, together with all the other Jewish residents of the village, were shipped to a concentration camp. Rabbi Shapira was transferred from one concentration camp to the next until he reached his final destination point: Auschwitz.

As he disembarked from the train, he was ordered to join the line where selection was taking place. Standing in the back of the line, he saw from a distance the camp commandant's baton swing left, swing right. He knew that left signified certain death, but right bought time and possible survival.

His heart palpitating, he drew closer to the commandant as the line surged forward. Soon it would be his turn. What would be the decree? Left or right?

He was one person away from the man in charge of the selection, the man whose arbitrary decision could send him into the flames. What kind of man was this commandant, a man who could so easily send thousands of people a day to their deaths?

Despite his own fear, he looked curiously, almost boldly into the face of the commandant as his turn was called. At that moment, the man turned to glance at him, and their eyes locked.

Rabbi Shapira approached the commandant and said quietly, 'Good morning, Herr Mueller!' Herr Mueller's eyes, cold and unfathomable, twitched for a fraction of a second. 'Good morning, Herr Rabiner!' he answered, also very quietly.

And then he swung his baton forward. "Recht!" he shouted with a barely perceptible nod. "Right!"!

Who would have thought a simple "Hello" could save a life? Yet sometimes the smallest of actions (or at least actions that we perceive to be small) can result in the greatest -- and gravest -- of consequences. The rabbi sowed the seeds of his redemption for years by engaging in polite pleasantries with a person whom others might have deemed an inconsequential peasant. Could he ever have envisioned that one day this man would quite literally hold his fate in his hands?"

When I read this, I couldn't help but be touched by the message and the extraordinary miracle of the story. And although I'm distilling it's meaning quite a bit, I feel like this story has spoken to me. I think a lot about HBS and how nervous I am about the social aspect. I so badly want to make a great group of friends and meet people that I fit with, but my poor college experience always holds me back and reminds me of how difficult things can be. Then I read stories like this and think about my experience at Admit Weekend: I said "Hello!" with a smile to any eyes that met mine and I struck up a conversation with a different person at every event. It was just a small time that I spent with each person, but perhaps that small act of kindness will come back in greater ways in the fall when I'm looking for others to project that friendliness with me!

What are your thoughts?


@ynsley NicoLe responded on June 26, 2008 at 2:03 AM #

Wow, that is a really neat story Gabs! :D I want to read the book now! haha...It definitely serves to show you how small acts of kindness really do pay off in the long run...see, karma comes back around. In this case, it was good vibes, which is nice to hear since there are so many negative ones out there these days. Well, before I go overboard with my commentary, I wanted to say that I think your acts of kindess/friendliness when meeting new HBS students was very commendable. This is already saying a lot about someone who perceives themself as shy, eh? ;) lol...Honestly, every experience is different and you can't compare one to the other. This reminds me of another saying---"out with the old, and in with the new." You are starting out on the right foot, and don't let those old experiences taint your new ones. I know you will achieve lots of success, both academically and socially, so don't allow yourself to think otherwise! Just like we chatted about the other day, the power of positive thinking...if you think it, then you can do it! :D