Midot Hayom: Day 29: Chesed in Hod
Once a man uncovered a woman’s hair in the street. When she complained to Rabbi Akiva he ordered the offender to pay her four hundred zuz. Said the man, “Rabbi, allow me time to pay the judgment.” Rabbi Akiva agreed. Arriving home, his friend told him, “With my advice, you will not have to pay her even one penny.” Please advise me,” he replied. “Buy an issur’s worth of oil,” said the friend, who knew the woman was very poor, “and break the bottle in front of her door.” What did the woman do? She came out of the house, and seeing the spilled oil, uncovered her hair, dipped her hand in the oil, and daubed her head with it. The man had stationed witnesses to observe her. He then said to Rabbi Akiva, “To this shameless woman I should pay 400 zuz! Why, for an issur’s worth of oil she did not mind bringing shame on herself! She went outside and uncovered her head, daubing it with oil!” “Your argument does not hold water,” Rabbi Akiva retorted, “for although a person is not permitted to injure himself, he is not liable when he does, however, if someone else injures him he is liable. Ao too, although she abused herself, she is not liable; but you who abused her, must give her 400 zuz!” Avot of Rabbi Nathan 3:4
A person’s inner glory is not a reflection of how they perceive or treat themselves. When we interact with someone else, we must respond to that inner glory, even nurturing a sense of dignity they do not themselves possess.
We often respond to people based on how they perceive themselves. We are obligated to interact with them as if they were at their best.