I walked into the local silver store the other day with a set of candlesticks. They were quite tarnished. Mom had been using them ever since she received them as a wedding gift (in the 1950’s), and they were quite tarnished. Every Friday night, as we sat to the Shabbat table with the candles lit, mom would say something about the candlesticks and how they need to be polished.
Because they are silver-plated, rather than sterling silver, many silver stores would not agree to polish them, afraid of damaging the silver plating. The assistant at this local store, however, offered to hand polish them, and so I brought them in.
The esthetics when one enters the store are stunning. The store itself is stocked with silver items from wall to wall, beautiful items beautifully arranged.
This time, though, there was something different. On a table near the entrance was an open box of pizza with two slices left, and next to it an open soda can.
The attendant put on the best face he could, hiding his discomfort about the store’s appearance. But this was so incongruous that it clearly called for some kind of comment. Then, as I was about to make a snide remark, I thought better of it, and looked for a different kind of reaction.
“This is like the silver store of our father Abraham,” I said. I spoke with a gentle voice and a smile, knowing that the tone of my voice would make the difference between my words being heard as kindness, which I intended, or as sarcasm.
“Our tradition teaches that the tent of our ancestors Abraham and Sarah had openings on all sides, an act of hospitality so that passersby could come in and get something to eat and drink,” I said. This is something that is part of a child’s Jewish education, and based on the assistant’s appearance I knew he was familiar with it.
“And this store is just like that, one walks in and there is pizza and drinks on the table. Sadly,” I continued, with a mischievous smile, “I can’t partake, because I am gluten-free. But I appreciate the sentiment.”
The attendant smiled. “We do our best.”
We chatted for a bit, and I left the candlesticks and the wine cup for him to polish.
I returned a while later, and the items were looking so much better than before. “Would you be willing to give the wine cup another round of polish?” I asked.
“Sure,” the assistant responded.
When I returned again after completing my other shopping to pick up the newly-polished items, I could hardly recognize them. They looked like new.
“How much do I owe you for this?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said. He wrapped the items and handed them to me. “And thank you for not giving me a hard time about the store’s appearance.”
“I imagined you were already feeling badly about what I saw when I walked in,” I replied. “What would be the point of making a harsh remark? I looked for something positive to say.”
The store is located on the main shopping street in our neighborhood, and I pass by almost daily as I pick up food and other things. The storefront is glass from ceiling to floor, so one can see inside. As I walk by the store, the assistant and I wave to each other and exchange wide smiles.
A simple act of kindness goes a long way.