I was preparing a class the other day when the phone rang. I was just elaborating on the idea that we should live each day as if it's our last and what that means for our character and behavior. I ran to get the phone, unable to ignore its insistent ringing, yet preoccupied with my thoughts.

It was a phone solicitation. I was so resentful of the interruption, so frustrated by the intrusion into my time and space and so annoyed by the break in my train of thought that I barely listened before I muttered, "I'm sorry, I can't help you," and replaced the receiver. (Trust me, it sounds gentler than it really was.)

But I had heard just enough to know that the request for money came from an organization that provides food for the needy in Israel. My mind could fill in the blanks -- the poverty, the illness, the broken homes.

I had heard just enough to appreciate the irony of my reaction -- and to be humiliated and ashamed.

I was so busy preparing these lofty ideas to impart to my eager students, so conscious of the merit of the information (and my merit in communicating it!) that I completely lost touch with the fact that there was a person on the other end of the phone, a real human being with needs and emotions, to whom I had been gratuitously nasty.

And what was his crime? He was trying to raise money for needy families, families I should be anxious to help, families I am anxious to help -- if only I could be bothered to listen.

But I was busy, I had work to do. And he spoke so slowly and haltingly. He didn't even pronounce our name correctly. I felt justified in being dismissive.

I couldn't return to preparing the class. My faux pas lingered in front of me, mocking my arrogance, the idea that I was qualified to communicate important goals and qualities.

I'm grateful that I had just reviewed the idea "Repent one day before your death" and its implication that therefore we need to repent every day since we don't know when we'll die. I'm grateful it was that particular piece of Torah that I was learning. Because now I know exactly how to fix my mistake -- and how to prevent it in the future.