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23 Iyar 5761 - May 16, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
A Good Eye

by HaRav Yehoshua Shklar

"[Rabban Yochonon ben Zackai] said to [his talmidim:] `Go out and discern which is the proper way to which a man should cling.' R' Eliezer says: `A good eye' (Ovos 2:9)."

What is "a good eye"? There are diverse opinions among the commentaries about the definition of "a good eye." Rabbenu Ovadia of Bartenura explains that a person has a good eye when he is satisfied with what he already has and does not seek unnecessary extras. It does not matter to him that another person has more than he has.

The Vilna Gaon comments that the "good eye" mentioned in the Mishnah corresponds to what Shlomoh Hamelech writes (Mishlei 22:9): "He who has a good eye shall be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor."

A more thorough explanation is offered by HaRav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on Pirkei Ovos (Ateres Tzvi). In HaRav Hirsch's typically captivating fashion, he explains that the trait of "a good eye" is characterized by sincere concern about another human being. This elevated person takes a loving interest in what is happening to another being, his aspirations and his material circumstances. In his "good eye" a brilliant light of satisfaction glitters when he notices others doing well. He seeks the well-being of others and is free of any jealousy or resentment.

An innovative interpretation is given by the Tiferes Yisroel on the Mishnayos. He claims that "a good eye" means considering each person as good: the recognition that we must try to see each other's good qualities.

Seeing the good in each person is explicitly mentioned in Pirkei Ovos (1:6): "Yehoshua ben Perachyah says: `Accept a teacher upon yourself, acquire a friend for yourself, and judge all of a man (kol ho'odom) meritoriously.' " The Mishnah does not write es ho'odom meaning every man, but rather kol ho'odom meaning all of the man. We must keep in mind all of someone's commendable attributes when judging him. When we do that we will look at him in an altogether different light.

Actually, HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l, the rosh yeshiva of Mirrer Yeshiva, (Sichos Mussar, III, Likras Yom Hadin) writes that Chazal (Shabbos 127b) are advising us that fulfilling this Mishnah is the way to be saved from the frightful judgment of Rosh Hashanah. "When we amplify this virtue within ourselves and judge others favorably, we will be zocheh for Hashem to judge us, too, favorably."

I believe this to be a fulfillment of the rule of "measure for measure." When a person judges another unfavorably for doing a certain seemingly bad act and considers "all of that man" to be unworthy; when he does not judge the other favorably because he does not take into consideration the zechuyos he has because of the good deeds that he has also done; then HaKodosh Boruch Hu looks at this man in the same way that he looks at others -- and every person sins sometimes. Hashem looks at this person's "all of the man" in an unfavorable way, just as this man looked at the person he is complaining about.

When, on the other hand, a person judges another favorably, and sees "all of the man," which includes his virtuous deed, HaKodosh Boruch Hu too judges him favorably as "all of a man": He judges him together with his good deeds.

I once heard the mashgiach of a yeshiva gedoloh in Eretz Yisroel point out how terrible loshon hora is. Every person in the world has his own faults, his own failings in avodas Hashem. Yet when someone hears about another's aveiroh, that person has, in his opinion, turned into another, entirely different creature. The person who told the loshon hora has managed to convert a person into another being altogether.

It is possible that this person becoming a metzora and being forced to sit outside the camp of bnei Yisroel is punishment "measure for measure" for speaking loshon hora. Even others who are tomei cannot be together with him, and he himself must warn them not to come near him. Because of his having spoken loshon hora, he caused someone to be looked at altogether differently, and is punished by being himself turned into a different creature than what he was. When he is outside the camp of bnei Yisroel he will be better able to reflect how to do teshuvah and how to return to his old essential nature. Meanwhile he must with his own mouth tell others, through his power of speech, which he so shockingly misused, not to come close to him, to his essential evil.

@Big Let Body=This matter of "a good eye" and the obligation to judge "all of a man" favorably is strongly relevant between fathers and children and between educators and students. It is surely unproductive to overlook bad deeds committed by children and students. On the other hand, when criticizing them one must also see what is praiseworthy in them. Such a rebuke has an altogether different influence than an exclusively negative one. A person must consider a thousand times before saying something that might insult a child. Verbal abuse can leave an incurable scar in a child, one that will continually interfere with his development.

It happened once that the person in charge of deciding about a matter directly pertaining to the entire chareidi public in Eretz Yisroel was a person who had once been frum but later abandoned Yiddishkeit. When some former friends from his class in cheder approached him concerning this matter, he told them he could never forget how his teacher had shamed him when he asked to be transferred to a higher class. It so grieved him that it caused his eventual abandoning of our camp, Rachmono litzlan.

As the Chut HaMeshulash tells, when the Chasam Sofer was four years old he came home from cheder enraged. His father asked him what had happened and the Chasam Sofer answered that his melamed had punished him: He had hit him because he asked a question on parshas Bereishis twice. Since the child's question was justified the melamed's behavior greatly angered and troubled the father. He was worried that the melamed's strictness might cause the Chasam Sofer, who was destined to be a godol beTorah, to lose his desire to study. HaRav Nosson Adler ordered the father to teach his son himself so that this child- genius's development not be harmed.

Another story about the Chasam Sofer told in the Chut HaMeshulash is that his father once publicly rebuked his son and slapped him on his cheek because he felt he was not careful enough to honor his grandfather. R' Nosson Adler was worried that this would interfere with the boy's development and took him to his home. He ate at his table and grew up by him.

I have cited these examples to show to what degree a person must be conscientious about his reactions to what his children and students do.

"The words of Hashem are pure words" (Tehillim 12:7). "R' Yudan ben Menasheh said that even when HaKodosh Boruch Hu began showing [the people] the signs of tomei animals he began with their tohor signs. The Torah does not say, `[You shall not eat of] the camel because it does not have a cloven hoof'; it says, `[You shall not eat of] the camel because it chews the cud but does not have a cloven hoof' (starting with the signs of tohoroh). Similarly with the rabbit, the Torah does not write that it does not have a cloven hoof; it [starts] by writing that it chews the cud; and so with the hare and the swine, and that is what is meant by `The words of Hashem are pure words' (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 26:1)."

This Midrash is teaching us that even when we want to forbid something or criticize something, we should start by stating the good side, so that all we say will be tohor, just as "the words of Hashem are pure words."

@Big Let Body=On this occasion I am also acting as a representative for several parents who have asked me to relay a straightforward request to melamdim and educators. When parents ask about their children's progress, even if the teacher has something negative to remark, he should start off by describing the good he sees in the child. Every child has some good quality! The teacher should not leave the anguished parents with only a report about what is bad in their children, without telling them of any ray of light he sees in them. The teachers should first speak of what is praiseworthy, and the parents will afterwards use their child's strength to slowly change him altogether.

A father once told me that after he heard the negative opinion his son's teacher expressed about his son, he adopted a unique way to help his son recognize himself and his positive side. The father knew his son had a good voice, and so at seudah shelishis he honored him with leading the singing of all of the niggunim at the table. This may seem something trivial, but that child saw its "worth" and importance, and today is one of the best talmidim in his yeshiva gedoloh.

I think this example can renew the hopes of parents. They should direct their efforts into utilizing the good elements their children possess, and through this approach teach the children their worth so that they will employ all of their talents properly.

Parents, please beware of using insulting expressions when talking to your children. Think about how you are offending them! A few years later you may chas vesholom see how these insults have harmed your children, and then you may have to search for a "special yeshiva" for them.

Not long ago I returned from a trip to Chutz La'aretz during which I inspected a chareidi educational institution in a well-known city. I also visited a special yeshiva for boys who for some reason were dropouts from regular yeshivos, where they did not fit in. As a result of my conversations with the parents who came to see me, I came to the conclusion that the parents could have avoided sending a great many of these "problem children" to such special yeshivos. The real cause for these children's failure was unnecessary parental strictness. The parents themselves admitted I was right, and said they regretted the way they had treated their children when they were young and impressionable.

During the decades that I have worked in education I have seen numerous cases where, if a little effort had been exerted at the right time, a radical change would have been attained. In another article I will talk more at length about this.

Chazal (Shabbos 111b) write: "Showing white teeth to another person [i.e., smiling] is more important than giving him milk to drink, as is written [concerning Yaakov Ovinu's brochoh to Yehudah] that `his teeth white with milk' (Bereishis 48:12)."

This principle pertains to our children and students, too. Let us always show them "white teeth": be careful of their feelings, see their good qualities, and put efforts into improving them.

HaRav Yehoshua Shklar was niftar in Iyar 5779.

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