Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5764 - October 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

It's the Details
by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein

Ever notice how the Torah seems to direct us towards living a life where we notice, and pay attention to details? Lots and lots of details. Even the smallest of the small; things that seem to be the most insignificant of things. Yes, it appears that the Torah is teaching us that we should train ourselves to think that nothing is to be ignored or consigned to the "capable of being ignored / I don't-need-to- notice-that" pile.

I guess that being oblivious isn't a Jewish goal. Yes, we are encouraged to cross the street rather than walk in front of a building dedicated to avoda zoro, and to avert our eyes when seeing anything that is lacking in modesty. But to do these things, we must be aware of what is in front of our faces -- or at least what will soon be there.

With some things, it is easier to do than with others. I am neat and clean, so to me it is second nature to wipe down a counter-top every time I use it. This keeps the kitchen looking nice, no matter what is going on in the sink. And it also keeps gook off the bottom of my otherwise clean plates. Concurrently, I believe it trains me to be responsible for the results of my actions. To go through life dropping things without picking them up or spilling things without mopping them up doesn't seem the best way to foster responsibility in anyone.

Sometimes, being aware of details is not so simple. Though I can try to be careful not to hurt or insult anyone, sometimes it is easy to forget. Paying attention to details such as the fact that Mrs. X just lost her job or that Mrs. Y has not yet had any children can keep me from inadvertently causing them pain. But keeping these details in mind when sitting together in public at a simcha or other occasion can be more difficult, though perhaps even a greater mitzva. Can there be a bigger chessed than rerouting a conversation that could easily cause another person sitting there discomfort, embarrassment or pain?

Which brings me to the confusion of chessed and all kinds of details. It is a kindness to tell your child, whom you are sending to the grocery store, anyway, to offer to buy a fresh milk or challa for Mrs. J. on Friday so that she doesn't have to go out especially for it. And it is certainly a big kindness to offer to bring someone else's child home from school, too, if you are going that way, anyway. And remembering to invite guests, especially unmarried ones, early in the week so that they know what they are doing for Shabbos or Yomtov, and also have the chance to feel wanted, vs. the last-minute chap-a- mitzva is certainly admirable.

But where, I wonder, is the border between doing a favor for someone and at the same time causing someone else pain?

We all know stories of people bringing meals to shut-ins while their own children return from school to a home in which their mother is harried from just getting in and the table is not yet set for their lunch, which is a nice way to make someone feel that their arrival is joyfully anticipated.

And we all know of people who make hospital visits when they haven't sat down to play with their own children for weeks due to lack of time. Or people who are careful to daven in front of a wall in shul so that they shouldn't get distracted, but fail to realize that they are blocking the doorway so no one can go in or out.

But what about those situations when a neighbor asks if their married son can sleep at your home with his two-year- old and a baby so they don't have to walk over on Shabbos, yet they forget to ensure that someone will watch the two- year-old while his parents are napping in your home, or make provisions to bring the baby to their house if he starts screaming all night?

Do the men and boys who are helping a `store front' shul set up for a kiddush by lugging tables and benches late at night realize how loudly the noise they make reverberates in a sleeping neighborhood? Or how disturbing the happy talking, laughing and car doors slamming can be after late night weddings?

Do we ever stop to think that even our chessed has to be looked at in terms of all those extra details which may be surrounding it?

A neighbor frequently pitching in to babysit for a young mother (after all, one more in our brood won't make a difference) might not realize that by being so readily available, it could be making the girl's own mother look bad in comparison.

And telling a person who lives alone that we'll bring something "right over" when we really mean "within the next hour or so" or when we stop to answer the phone on our way out and thus leave the house 10-15 minutes later, means that we are not only not being accurate, but that we may also be causing the person discomfort.

How? With no one else around to open the door, if you're "coming soon," the person is basically forced into limbo until you arrive. They can't finish davening or get involved in making a cake or hang up laundry out on the porch etc. if you could arrive any minute. They can't even make a phone call because perhaps you'll arrive just when Aunt Sara begins a litany of her latest troubles, or they've finally reached the party they've been waiting to speak to for weeks. Without some kind of an accurate time frame, such a person is literally restricted to hanging around their front door, waiting for you. (If they're at the back of the house or hanging laundry on the porch, perhaps they won't hear the buzzer!) The list of possibilities is endless if you are expected to arrive "any minute!"

How can we know or anticipate any of these things? I guess we can't, really. All we can do is to look around us and try to see the details, try to be considerate, and then pray that our chessed doesn't hurt anyone.


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