His head snapped up briefly, in shock, as if I had said something wrong. He then quickly lowered his eyes back down and silently walked past me.
Perturbed that I had perhaps unintentionally offended the man, I thought to myself that if only one could more often remember to follow the dictum of our Sages, “סיג לחכמה שתיקה – silence is a protective fence for wisdom.” But, I sadly concluded, the words had already been spoken out loud. The program of the day that ensued became exceedingly hectic and eventually the morning encounter slipped my mind.
When I returned home late that evening I got the message that the man I had met in the morning had called, and would be trying to reach me again. I speculated that he had been so upset by my remark that he had found it necessary to pursue the matter with a call.
When we finally spoke, the man launched into a personal narrative. He told me that he was a fundraiser for a Jewish communal organization and the past year had not been very productive. In fact, the funds he had raised were less than his salary, and he just didn’t feel it was proper to be recompensed. He had been on his way to hand in his resignation.
As he walked by me that morning, feeling sorry for himself, his self-esteem was in the dumps, and feeling quite miserable, my question had blown him away. He couldn’t believe that somebody actually framed his work in the realm of avodat hakodesh. He didn’t think anybody cared what he did for a living. Like a bolt of lightning my words struck him to the core, and he wondered if I was a heavenly messenger — a sign from heaven.
Suddenly, he felt revitalized and reenergized, and he decided to give his assignment another go. Actually, his day turned out to be a very successful one. In that one day he raised more money than he had the entire year. He had called just to let me know the beneficial effect of my casual greeting.
You can never gauge the consequences of your words.