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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


The Call Center & The Three Weeks

recently published study examined the effect that rude customers had on people in a call center, and the results were not pretty. The people in the call center who suffered abuse or mistreatment showed a higher level of damaging behavior and thoughts after they left work.

To put this study in perspective, let’s say a customer of company X has an issue with the product. The customer calls and navigates through a menu of options until he finally gets to speak to a human. The human in the call center has a template to follow in helping the customer (and may not even speak English as a first language) and isn’t really allowed to answer any question that is not in the template.

Effectively, the human is forced to act like a more advanced version of the menu of options that the customer was already frustrated with. We can understand why the people in the call center get berated or abused more so than your average employee. But that doesn’t justify berating someone and now that we know what kind of effect it has on the person on the other side, it should give us even more pause.

Especially since we are currently in the period of the Three Weeks, where we are meant to reflect on the reasons that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed AND why it has not been rebuilt, I’d like to share with you an insight from last week’s Parasha.

In last week’s Parasha, we are taught that a person who unintentionally kills someone due to a certain degree of negligence (but not gross negligence) has to live in an ir miklat (a city of refuge) and can’t leave the ir miklat until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Preist).

The Mishna in Makkos 11a, comments that the mother of the Kohen Gadol would prepare food for these accidental murderers so that they wouldn’t daven for the Kohen Gadol to die.

Davening for the death of the Kohen Gadol is pretty extreme. If someone is so motivated to get out that they would daven for the death of the Kohen Gadol, is getting some food from the Kohen Gadol’s mother really going to help?

It is likely that the accidental murderer never met the Kohen Gadol and the Kohen Gadol is a faceless individual who is “responsible” for him being in the ir miklat. The accidental murderer doesn’t have any personal connection to the Kohen Gadol and is in a desperate situation, so he doesn’t really experience any guilt davening for some anonymous person.

The Kohen Gadol’s mother comes and provides him with food and warmth so that the accidental murderer realizes that the role of Kohen Gadol isn’t just some title. There is an actual person who bears that title and that person has a family. If he dies, that will have a real impact on real people, people that the accidental murderer knows personally and with whom he has a warm connection. The accidental murderer is able to see the impact of those prayers and that is the greatest deterrent.

Calling a customer service hotline can be a frustrating experience. When you compound that with the lack of face-to-face connection, the person in the call center is some anonymous person who represents a company that we may be very frustrated with. But that person is a real person who has a family and friends and has to go home after work. Realizing this should give us pause before berating him or her.

In today’s society, we encounter the faceless person more and more often. This is one of the reasons why cyberbullying is so prevalent and why cyber theft, or other types of theft where the victim is not seen, is on the rise. If we take a moment before dealing with a “faceless” person to realize that he or she is a real person who deserves respect, we can do our small part in ensuring that this individual receives the dignity that he or she deserves. This will thereby hopefully contribute to the rebuilding effort of the Third Beit Hamikdash.