Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Growing Larger and Smaller at the Same Time

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Earlier this week, the employee helping me in a store used my name.  I was taken aback and asked how he knew my name.  He smiled and told me he remembered it from the last time I was there.  I don’t go to that store very often and hadn’t been there for a while. I was impressed that he remembered my name, but what made an even stronger impression on me was the power of the feeling that was generated just by his using my name.  It created an instant connection and made me feel like a person, not just a generic customer.  He doesn’t even know it, but his smile and use of my name brightened my day and energized me more than the cup of coffee he handed me.

Rav Elimelech Biderman relates that someone once asked Rav Avigdor Miller how he should prepare for the judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Miller replied, "Smile." He then explained: "How does smiling grant someone a good judgment? I will explain with a mashal: Someone owns a chain of stores. At the end of each year he takes inventory, and decides what changes have to be made for the upcoming year. Some stores will need more advertising, some employees will be laid off, and so on. The proprietor’s advisor said, ‘Even if you let go of some employees, don’t fire this one. He always has a smile on his face, which gives the consumers a good feeling. There are people who come to the store just to see him and be greeted by his smile.  We need him around.'


Similarly, at the end of the year Hashem takes inventory of His world to make determinations for the year ahead.  If someone always has a smile on his or her face, bringing joy to others, he or she has positioned themselves as an indispensable asset to the world, and Hashem will take that into consideration when making a determination for the year ahead.”


We are blessed to live in a large, vibrant community.  Our greater BRS family is comprised of more than 830 families, which translates into thousands of people.  On the one hand, that affords us countless opportunities like diverse friendships, multiple minyanim, extensive programming, and more.  At the same time, however, the larger our community gets, the harder it is to know others and to feel you matter.


In advising large religious institutions Rick Warren, describes our mission as growing larger and smaller at the same time.  We grow larger by attracting more people and families who share our vision, our values and our mission, but we must simultaneously grow smaller by providing programs, opportunities and experiences in which people know each other, feel they belong, and connect with others.


Towards that end, we are very excited to present two brand new initiatives this Shabbos.  First, based on an idea by Rabbi Moskowitz, our Young Leadership Committee is coordinating our first annual Name Tag Shabbaton.  As people attending any of our eight minyanim enter BRS this Shabbos morning, they will be given a name tag to wear around their neck, making it easy for all of us to learn and use one another’s names.


Additionally, on Shabbos afternoon, instead of coming to a class at BRS before Mincha, each development on Montoya Circle will host a dessert reception for their neighborhood, which will include a dvar Torah delivered by one of their neighbors.  (Those living off the circle are invited and encouraged to attend any of the receptions.)


In the Kelm yeshiva, a sign would hang during the month of Elul:


In theory, we should have to recite Birchas HaGomel, the blessing on surviving a life-threatening situation, after the Yamim Noraim, since traversing this time of the year is no less dangerous than crossing the desert.  However, we cannot know with certainty that in fact we have made it through and so we cannot recite the bracha.  What is the strategy to come out on the other side healthy, safe and secure?  The strategy is the same as necessary to survive a trek across the desert.  People who cross a dangerous area need to travel in groups, rely on one another, and support one another.  Similarly, to triumph in these days of awe, we need to recommit to togetherness, unity and mutual support and love.


A parent is especially flexible and forgiving towards a child when they see that child show devotion to his or her siblings.  The same is true with Avinu Shebashomayim, our Father in Heaven. We will soon stand before Him, imperfect with shortcomings, failures and disappointments.  We will ask forgiveness and pledge to do better to be attentive to His needs and more compliant with what He wants from us.  Like a father, He will be quicker to forgive and more generous with His love and affection if we show our dedication and devotion to His other children, namely, our neighbors and friends.


You can’t spell community without unity and you can’t have a thriving community without the people who comprise it committed to unity with one another. Please make an effort every Shabbos, but especially this week, to greet everyone on your way to and from shul, to say good Shabbos, offer a smile and even use someone’s name when talking to them. If you see a new face or you are sitting next to someone you don’t know, introduce yourself.  Your warmth and effort will have an enormous impact, not just on the other person, but on you and Hashem’s determination for you for the coming year.


Moreover, we should take the lessons we develop and practice this Shabbos and incorporate them into our interactions with the world. When you say thank you to the person bagging your groceries at Publix, look at name tag and thank him by name. Learn and use the name of your office building’s custodian or security guard.


Smile at your co-workers and your family members. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician at Harvard Medical School, authored a study that concludes that happiness is contagious.  The same way when one person yawns it affects others, when one person smiles or is happy it leads to others’ happiness and smiling as well. Be the person who sets off the chain reaction of smiles and make yourself indispensable to Hashem this Yamim Noraim season.


As we grow larger, we cannot also grow smaller without everyone’s help.