So, I did it again. I forgot to put on sunscreen on the first day of camp.
Opening day of the camping season last week, here in Camp Dora Golding, was a picture-perfect day. It wasn’t too hot and there was a pleasant breeze under bright and sunny skies. Since it wasn’t too hot, I forgot that it was still prudent to put on sunscreen.
I spent the day driving around camp, helping campers locate and move their luggage into their bunkhouses. When the day was done, my forehead was a bit sunburned, but my arms were bright red, totally sunburned.
For the next couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about forgetting the sunscreen even if I wanted to, because my burning arms were constant reminders.
Since last week, I have never forgotten to wear sunscreen on the first day of camp.
Although I put on t’filin the next morning along with everyone else in shul, no one else realized that it was harder for me that morning. Wrapping t’filin on my sunburned arm was painful.
It’s societally acceptable for someone to pat a friend on the back as an expression of conviviality and friendship. Sometimes it can happen that a person does so, and the recipient unexpectedly reacts angrily. “What’s your problem? Why did you hit me?” The friend might likely think the recipient needs emotional help. That’s because he has no way of knowing that the recipient has a blister or sunburn on his back, and the relatively light tap actually caused him a great deal of stinging pain.
The Mishnah (Avos 2:5) says, “Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place.” In other words, don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. The S’fas Emes notes that it is essentially impossible to ever “reach his place,” because even if one is in the exact same physical situation as another, he has vastly different life experiences, personality traits, and proclivities. The S’fas Emes is essentially saying that no one can ever fully be in someone else’s shoes and, therefore, no one can ever truly judge someone else.
In his landmark book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey relates that he was on the subway in New York City one Sunday morning. It was a calm, peaceful scene with most people reading the paper or dozing.
Then, suddenly, a man entered the subway car with his children. The children were loud and rambunctious, and the serenity of a moment earlier was quickly lost. The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.
Covey relates that he couldn’t help but feel irritated. How could the man be so insensitive and oblivious to the ruckus his kids were making?
After a few minutes, with tremendous patience and restraint, Covey noted to the man that people were disturbed by the noise his children were making and it would be appreciated if he could control them somewhat.
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to consciousness of the situation for the first time. He said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either…”
Covey concludes his story, “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?”
The challenge of life is that we don’t know anything about the trials, sorrows, and temptations of those around us. We don’t know of the pillows wet with tears, of tragedies masked by superficial smiles, or secret worries and struggles others contend with daily.
We have no idea of the sunburn others have that causes them to be overly sensitive to the slightest provocations.
In Avos (1:4), it also says, “One should judge the entire person favorably.” It doesn’t say that one should judge every person favorably. Rather it says that one should judge the entirety of the person favorably. Before one judges another, he first has to know “the whole person,” including his or her background, inner psyche, and all surrounding events. And no one can know everything about another’s life.
The moral of the story is to wear sunscreen and not be too quick to judge others.