One might not think that Jewish Treats would have much to say about “Peculiar People Day,” as January 10th has been dubbed by those who create new holidays. However, the sages were so aware of a person’s natural reaction to those who are different, that special blessings were designated for just such occasions: Blessed is He who makes strange creatures (for those who are so from birth) and Blessed be the true Judge (for those whose appearance was altered after birth). These blessings remind us that all creatures are God’s handiwork and deserve honor and respect.
The list of types of people who were considered strange in the Talmud would, perhaps, be considered offensive to a modern audience. However, an important story about how one should view all people is related in the Talmud, Taanit 20a-b:
“Once Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Shimon was…riding leisurely on his donkey by the riverside and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah. There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man who greeted him, ‘Peace be upon you, Sir.’ He [Rabbi Eleazar], however, did not return his salutation but instead said to him, ‘Empty one! How ugly you are. Are all your fellow citizens as ugly as you are?’ The man replied: ‘I do not know, but go and tell the Craftsman who made me: How ugly is the vessel which You have made.’ When Rabbi Eleazar realized that he had done wrong, he dismounted from the donkey and prostrated himself before the man and said to him, ‘I submit myself to you, forgive me.’”
When the man refused to forgive him, Rabbi Eleazar followed him home, where his friends greeted Rabbi Eleazar with honor, only to be told by the man of the sage’s unseemly behavior. Upon his friends’ urging, he finally forgave Rabbi Eleazer, but only after he promised never to act in such an uncaring manner again.
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