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  • Writer's pictureAliza Davidovit

From Toe to Head

As I was lying on my couch with my feet propped up on the armrest reading the Bible that was resting on my stomach, I realized that from above the top of the page I could see my toes. Something about my position seemed disrespectful to me. I didn’t think my feet should be elevated above God’s book. I started to tell myself I was being silly and continued reading but my toe kept looking at me straight in the face. I then began to investigate if there were any discussions about this in Judaic literature and discovered that I didn’t invent an issue where there was none. Turns out that there are many rules on how to handle holy books. For instance, one can’t put a book down on the same bench you are sitting on, or place a book face down or on the floor. It is even a sign of respect to close the book when one is not reading it and to kiss it once done reading it or if you drop it on the floor. This search led me to read on about other traditions that advocate respect, such as requiring a woman to dress beautifully before lighting her Sabbath candles in order to show respect to the holiness of the day, or the past requirement of Talmudic students to sit on a lower level than their teacher, or that of priests officiating in the temple to wear special garb. All these procedures were followed in the name of respect. These traditions touch me deeply even though they may seem benign and boring to others. It touched me because what I think is at the core of so much of today’s problems, from broken families to strained relationships even on the political scene, is the lack of respect between individuals. When I see all the fences religions erect vis-a-vis inanimate objects in order to preserve respect and to enhance our ability to differentiate between the holy and the mundane, I wonder why it’s not blatantly evident that the same has to be extended to people in order to preserve relationships. The other week I was walking in a shopping mall when I heard a little girl, probably aged 9 or 10, tell her mother to shut up. I was disgusted with the mother, not the child. For it is obvious that that parent didn’t put up the essential scaffold that maintains all relationships: respect. I’m sure there were many infractions which went unchallenged before that impudent kid had the nerve to tell her parent to shut up. I have seen brides and grooms read their vows with such love and devotion and just a few years later they call each other every name under the sun. As a little girl I used to wonder how people who loved each other could actually get divorced. At what point does it break down, at what point does it become irreversible? We all recently saw how the United States spoke very rough and tough to Israel, its steadfast ally. Relationships don’t crumble overnight. As we let our guard fall as to how we speak to others and how we let them speak to us, these insipid leniencies that seem meaningless and harmless in the moment end up creating a great chasm. A child shushes you quiet at 5 years old and tells you to shut up at 10, you call you husband “stupid” as a joke the first year of mariage and five years later you’ve expanded your liberties and call him a *!!@$%!@@*. The Holy Book starts off on your bookshelf and ends up as a coaster on the coffee table. Strategic interests unite two nations but harsh words and disrespect seem more potent in defining the future. I guess this whole blog is to urge us all to guard the moments and to realize how important respect is as the glue to preserve all that’s decent and precious. We’ve become such an informal generation, and respect is one of the greatest casualties. In my temple growing up there was a big sign above the pulpit that said, “Know before whom you stand,” I think I too started forgetting, but my toes served to remind me. **************************************** Sponsored by the Wordsmithy for all your editing needs. Contact: for further information


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