The Middat HaShavuah is taken from our Torah portion, Parshat Noach. The Middah is: 

זֹ֤את אֽוֹת־הַבְּרִית֙

“Give signs that show respect”

The Torah is replete with signs and wonders. The signs and wonders in the Torah are HaShem’s way to communicate to us. In a sense, through the signs and wonders, HaShem is saying, “I hear you, I am listening.” The example in this week’s Torah portion is of course the rainbow. HaShem says: “‘I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God further said, ‘This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.’” (Beresheet 9:11-13)

How do we give signs that show respect? Most recently, one way that we gave signs to show respect during Covid was by following Covid restrictions, wearing masks, and social distancing.  As the pandemic overtook our lives, we had to learn new signs to show respect.

But even before Covid, our body language, the way we speak to people, and the way we listen to people (see “active listening” d’var torah from two weeks ago!) are all signs that show respect. As our masks (slowly and carefully) begin to come off, I would like to use this week’s Middah to review ways that we can give signs that show respect to others. 

Here are some things that you can practice:

  1. Ask Open Ended Questions

If someone is sharing something with you or even talking to you, you should ask open ended questions. If you ask open ended questions the person will feel that you are actually taking interest. Also, asking open ended questions will make the person open up more and if the person talks more, you both will succeed in making good rapport with each other.

  1. Smile

When you smile, you are welcoming. And when you are smiling during a conversation, it is a very accommodating gesture for the other person. A nice and genuine smile will make the person feel comfortable and the person ends up opening more to you.

  1. Nod

To give someone respect, it is also recommended to nod during the conversation. Nodding will tell you that the person is actively listening to what you are saying. Don’t bobblehead, meaning nod too much , which might symbolize you are in a hurry and are rushing the conversation.

  1. Maintain Positive Body Language

It is very important to maintain positive body language when a person is speaking to you. Your entire body should be pointing to the person speaking to you, to show respect that you are listening to him/her completely.  Also, it makes the person comfortable and feel good. Other examples of positive body language include

  1. Use Positive Gestures 

The gestures we use also show signs of respect. Make sure your gestures are not dominating or authoritative in a conversation. Using those types of gestures in a conversation may make a person feel a lack of respect. Some dominating or authoritative gestures to avoid are: crossed arms or legs, hands behind head, legs on chairs or tables, etc. When you use positive gestures (also known as subjugating gestures), it often signals friendliness and openness.

     6.  Maintain Good Eye Contact

Maintaining good eye contact can show respect and that you are engaged and actively listening to what someone is telling you. However, if you stare too intensely, it can have the opposite effect by making the other person feel too targeted. Assess their body language in response to determine if they feel comfortable.

  1. Lean in While Speaking (and Listening)

The distance you keep between others is also a nonverbal cue and a sign of respect. While you never want to impose on someone’s personal space, leaning in and facing their direction when communicating indicates that you’re comfortable with them and interested in the exchange.

Every human being wants to feel heard and respected. We can do this in lots of different ways. I have shared with you some practices that you can use in your interpersonal relationships that can truly make a difference and make your partner feel respected. When we give signs that show respect to our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues, and our neighbors, we imitate HaShem, and, in doing so, help create a better, healthier, and more peaceful world.

Shabbat Shalom!

Moreh Alan

Mitzvah Day 2024