She saw the writing on the wall. I’ll call her Sara. She was living in Germany in the late 1930s with her husband and two small children. A very bad situation for Jews living there was getting worse, and she wanted to get out of the country with her family and escape the Nazi menace.

But how to do it? There seemed no answers. Then a glimmer of hope. Word reached her family that there were some visas that Jews could get from an office in Berlin the next day. Her husband had to work, so after finding someone to watch the children, and with strong resolve, Sara boarded a train the next morning for the hour-long ride, in the heat of summer, hopefully to get what she needed for her family.

Absent those visas, she simply didn’t know what she would doWhen she arrived in Berlin, she took a cab to the address she had, where the visas were said to be available. Inside the building, she found the right office, and when she entered she saw dozens of people in a hot, cramped room waiting for the same salvation that she was. A lone German bureaucrat sat at a desk, seemingly oblivious to the mass of humanity around him.

Hours passed and people suffered in silence. Sara held on to the hope that she would leave that office with those few pieces of paper that would mean a new life for her and her family. Absent those visas, she simply didn’t know what she would do.

Suddenly, everyone was snapped out of their heat-aided melancholy by the shrill voice of the bureaucrat—“No visas today. Come back tomorrow!”

The thought of going through this same ordeal the next day weighed heavily on everybody’s minds, but considering the lack of other options, they resolved to be back in the morning. For Sara (and perhaps many others), it meant the unexpected challenge of finding lodging on such short notice. But with so much at stake, Sara persevered to find a room for the night.

With the sun rising came the double-edged emotions of hope and fear. As Sara once again walked into that crowded, stifling office, she no doubt tried to keep hopeful, despite not knowing how many visas would be available and if there would be enough for everyone.

Again, for hours, people suffered in silence. The bland bureaucrat remained silent as well, as he did paperwork and ignored the people around him.

Late in the afternoon, the silence was broken by another loud pronouncement by the bureaucrat. His words brought instant heartbreak to those assembled. “There are no visas. Everyone must go home.” After the shock of his words was absorbed, people responded by letting out their pent-up emotions. Complaint after complaint was voiced, some with raw anger mixed with utter despair.

Sara no doubt felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her fate, and that of her family, had hung in the balance; now, very hot and tired, she had to make the long trip home with nothing to show for it. Did Sara join in with the chorus of despair directed at the bureaucrat? If so, no one would blame her.

What she did, though, was quite different. She wended her way slowly through the crowd, and walked right up to where the bureaucrat was sitting. She leaned over and said to him, ’I want to thank you for all of your time. Have a good day.”

She wended her way slowly through the crowd, and walked right up to where the bureaucrat was sittingThen she slowly turned from him and walked out the door. Walked down the hall with whatever strength she could muster. Almost at the stairway . . . when she heard the loud clacking of shoes running towards her. She turned, and saw that it was the bureaucrat, and he was holding pieces of paper in his hand. “I have these visas I can give you,” he said.

And that’s how she was able to get her family out of Europe.

It says in the Ethics of Our Fathers, Pirkei Avot, to “receive all men cheerfully.” Easy to say, but not so easy to carry out. We can have this gripe against this person, or we’re focused on some problem that we don’t have the time or inclination to be friendly, or a whole list of other reasons why we’re not going to be congenial.

The bureaucrat in that office certainly showed no signs of friendliness that would attract a reciprocal friendly greeting. But what he did have, unbeknownst to everyone there, was a handful of visas. So few, for so many people, that he decided not to give any of them away. Sara didn’t approach him with her cheerful greeting because she wanted something from him. She probably did it because that’s the way she was brought up, and she wasn’t going to change now.

Amazing, what repercussions a simple act of kindness can have.