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Facts and Feelings

Updated: Feb 1

Feelings exist, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. Every human being has them, and as fellow human beings, it is our responsibility to ensure that other people’s feelings are always taken into account. This would be the case even in a situation where the offended may not be aware that their feelings are being hurt. If our actions can potentially offend someone, then we must think long and hard if it’s worth going down that road.

Our words and our actions carry tremendous weight, and a flippant reaction can have an unimaginable, if unintentional, impact on another person. Thus, Jewish law is replete with guidelines about what we may and may not say, and these apply even if the offended party has no idea these things are being said about them behind their back.

One of the sources for adhering to this behavior is in the requirement to build a ramp for the Kohanim — the priests in the Temple — to ascend onto the altar to manage the various offerings. The altar was approximately fifteen feet tall, and instead of a staircase, the Torah says that a ramp should be constructed, lest the Kohanim lift their legs a bit too high and potentially expose their body parts that are typically kept covered. So in order to prevent the potential exposure and thus offense to the stones of the altar, G-d commanded that a ramp be used instead.

Various commentators analyze this commandment, and many come to the conclusion that there is a veiled lesson behind it. The fact that the Torah is concerned with potentially offending a stone, albeit a holy one used in the Temple, informs us how careful we must be with the feelings of another person. Being mindful of offending stones, which have absolutely no feelings but in this instance are being used for a divine purpose, tells us how much care we must exert to ensure that we never offend a fellow human being, each and every one of whom has a tremendous divine purpose and was created in G-d’s image.

Sure, it’s easy to say that “facts don’t care about your feelings,” and to a certain extent that may even be true — if a person’s feelings contradict Torah’s values, and certainly when the feelings pose an impediment to achievement — but that doesn’t mean we are to be flippant about another person’s concerns. Even if you are 100% right and the other person’s feelings are utterly misguided, you must still find a way to make your case without getting personal. Yes, facts and values are important, but every human being with their divine purpose and mission should always take precedence. Even if they don’t realize their feelings are being targeted.

G-d considers the need to be conscious of others’ feelings so fundamental that He placed the commandment to build the altar’s ramp immediately after the description of the extraordinary events at Mt. Sinai. The Jews heard the Ten Commandments in G-d’s own voice, representing the dawn of the Jewish people as a nation bound to G-d through Torah, and then — instead of Torah focusing on the spirituality of the moment and perhaps sharing additional laws about how to grow our relationship with G-d — we read about not offending stones.

After the extreme high of hearing G-d’s voice, along with the thunder and lightning that accompanied it and the immense spirituality felt by every Jew at that moment, G-d reminds us that we cannot have a relationship with Him if we don’t value the concerns of others.

You can be the most religious and spiritual person, but if you aren’t a “mentch” when it comes to dealing with other people, then your relationship with G-d is lacking too. And the converse is true too: Being kind and caring to other people is the surest way to have a consistent and mutually beneficial relationship with G-d.

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