During one of the most difficult times of Jewish history, the siege of Jerusalem (70 C.E.) by the Roman army, with over 1.1 million civilians. Many of those civilians traveled to Jerusalem from Babylon and Egypt to celebrate the yearly Passover, but instead, got trapped in the chaotic siege, unable to return home.
The city was rampant with hunger, disease, and violence, with the knowledge that a brutal end awaited them at the hands of their vicious enemy.
Within the city was the political and religious leader at the time, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai who was one of the most outstanding personalities in Jewish history.
Despite the unimaginable emotional pressure he was enduring, whenever he met someone on the street regardless of their social status, he always initiated a greeting, and never in his entire lifetime did he ever wait to be greeted first.
We could certainly understand that under those extreme circumstances he might have been too preoccupied to respond to people greeting him, let alone initiate greetings to others.
Still, the Talmud states that regardless of his inner struggles he didn’t lose sight of the unique part of humanity that every person possesses. Humanity, going out of our way to greet a neighbor or have good character even in times of struggle and uncertainty is Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai, and it can be every single one of us. Look up to Gd and look forward to Man.