The 2018 hurricane season is well underway. The most recent storm, Hurricane Michael, left parts of the Florida Panhandle in ruins, with at least five people dead and 1.1 million without power.

One day, a non-Jew knocked on the door of the great Torah scholar Shammai. “I will convert to Judaism,” the man announced, “on one condition: that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Rabbi Shammai was shocked. Teach the whole Torah in a minute or two? The entire five books of Moses, which Shammai had dedicated his life to studying? A text so richly layered that it gave rise to unending rabbinical commentaries? Preposterous! Insulting! Shammai chased the man out of his house with a stick.

The man ran to the nearby house of Rabbi Hillel and repeated his outrageous request: “Teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hillel was 60 years older than Shammai, and among the wisest of all Jewish sages — perhaps the greatest rabbi of the Talmud. He was also well-known for his humility and kindness; he taught his students, “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.”

Patiently, Hillel now considered the challenge, and the man standing before him. The whole Torah, while on one foot? Perhaps the man was an ignoramus who didn’t grasp the Torah’s complexities. Or the opposite: Maybe he was fearful of beginning Torah study, and was masking his discomfort with arrogance. Perhaps the man was even being malicious, trying to mock the Torah and its teachers. Whatever the man’s perspective, Hillel intended to meet him there thoughtfully — because in every human interaction lies the potential for greater understanding and connection.

When at last Hillel answered, this is what he said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

The man blinked and thought. Then he nodded.

“Tell me, rabbi,” he said, “When may I study with you again?”

When you are accessible, you are open and approachable – able to encounter others with empathy, and in ways comfortable for them – so that you can meaningfully connect.

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