The approach of Maran R' Shach ztvk'l to communal
matters was not uniform, but composed of different parts and
aspects which were, sometimes, even extremely contradictory.
Therefore, there are two prerequisites necessary in order for
one to properly focus on the lessons to be derived from his
practices: a readiness to study them in depth, and the wisdom
and understanding with which to interpret those lessons.
The central theme of Maran's concern in communal matters was
a firm, unshakable stand for principles, brooking no
compromise whatsoever, even at the cost of an out-and-out
battle and controversy. But neither is this picture complete
unless we simultaneously study the proper dimension which the
subject of bein odom lechavero occupied in Maran's
eyes. Only through a general, overall survey that includes
both poles of the issue can one hope to attain an accurate
perspective of Maran's path, and understand it in the light
of his daas Torah.
The best concretization of this is the fact that at the very
height of a raging battle which he waged against those
proverbial "foxes subverting the vineyard," and against those
who sought to fetter the feet of those who tread the Torah
path -- at that very time, Maran also gave innumerable
mussar talks to talmidim in which he
established the prime principle of upholding the integrity
and due respect of one's fellow man which was, in his eyes,
the foundation of all other worthy attributes and character
Maran regarded any insult and denigration of a fellow man as
the worst possible sin. He measured up every good deed
against this yardstick of truth: How did this act conform
with the Torah value of bein odom lechavero?
The sentence that repeated itself in almost all of his talks
over dozens of years was, "You may not even realize that you
are insulting someone . . . You can hurt someone without
meaning to . . ." And again, he would stress this point in
personal conversations with the hundreds of people who came
to him with their difficult halachic questions, with their
problems, with requests for his holy blessings. The scale
upon which he weighed many extremely weighty questions was:
What are the implications and repercussions that involve
aspects of bein odom lechavero?
In the volumes of his Michtovim Uma'amorim, we find
many letters written to private people and to communities, to
students and to institutions, in which Maran warns and
exhorts, pleads and begs, to be heedful and distance oneself
from any smattering of machlokes and sin'as
chinom. And the dates heading all these letters concur
with those very periods when he was waging pitched battles to
protect the bastion of pure Torah.
On the one hand, Maran once reacted to the accusation of
quarrel-mongering concerning a certain public issue by
saying, "And if a thief penetrates to my house and I oppose
him, is this called quarrel-mongering?"
And yet, on the other hand, in the course of a difficult
fight which ended with the demise of the Poalei Aguda, Maran
gave a talk in which he said in the name of HaRav Isser
Zalman ztvk'l, "First one must meet one's obligation
of establishing Yiddishkeit firmly and afterwards one
must make sure that there is no laxity in bein odom
lechavero and that no evil traits become entrenched."
And the words with which Maran chose to "assure than there is
no laxity in bein odom lechavero" reflect the full
balance and equality demanded by daas Torah:
"There were acts that could have caused insult and it seems
that according to din Torah, one must be pained that
there are people who are hurt and that our fellow Jews are
experiencing pain and distress. They were hurt and defeated,
and they are distressed over the downfall of their movement.
True we should have -- and must -- do what we did. This is
what we were instructed to do. But on the other hand, one
must also feel the other person's pain, commiserate with his
hurt, and realize that even though we couldn't help it,
feelings were damaged. We must learn and make amends and see
that the insult and abuse of others not be held lightly in
our eyes, not be wanton. We must be heedful to respect
others, for if one disregards another person's due respect
and insults others, even without intent, it can lead to far
When his words were spoken, they caused a great stir. They
were an additional proof that our regular line of thinking is
mistaken and distorted. We are talking about the downfall of
a movement which our Torah leadership tried to stop for many
years, a demise which they tried mightily to bring about. And
when that moment finally arrived, Maran saw fit to stifle the
waves of joy of the lesheim Shomayim-niks, the self
righteous, and to warn lest they succumb to evil traits as a
result of all the efforts that preceded the quelling of that
In the sea of verbiage, of the hashing of the political
implications and ramifications resulting from the
nullification of PAI, Maran is primarily concerned about hurt
feelings, and this is what he chooses to dwell upon in his
This attitude of caring is what he demands from his audience
as well. One must commiserate and empathize with the losers
and have regrets for anything that was done that ruffled
feelings. He called upon each and every person to find ways
to stop the avalanche of negative feelings lest it gain
momentum as it hurtles downward. G-d forbid that insulting
others become free territory, something permissible and even
considered admirable -- a "mitzvah," no less.
His strict attitude on the subject of interpersonal relations
runs like a silver thread throughout his many talks, and his
words are stated in a most stringent, warning tone:
"In our times, the matter of embarrassing a person (malbin
pnei chavero), abusing and besmirching him, has become
wide open. There is no doubt that this can deteriorate to a
level of bloodshed, very literally speaking! My heart is torn
and bleeding. To what depths have we fallen? At what base
level are we? To abuse and vilify one another without even
being aware that it is a sin!
"There is no value to any good deeds or fine merits or
advantages," he determines, "when these come at the expense
of hurting another person's feelings -- so long as there is
no law in the Shulchan Oruch explicitly permitting and
commanding one to do so.
"Let us visualize Klal Yisroel in Egypt, steeped in
forty-nine levels of depravity. Hashem sends Moshe Rabbenu to
rescue them and liberate them from bondage. Being a prophet,
Moshe knows that their emancipation also entails the
receiving of the Torah and entry into Eretz Yisroel.
Nevertheless, he makes his own reckoning. Perhaps my
accepting this mission will insult Aharon? And thus do
Chazal state in the Midrash: `Until I came along [and
was designated as the liberator], my brother Aharon
prophesied to them in Egypt for eighty years. And now, shall
I impinge upon his territory and cause him pain?' And this is
why he refused to go."
We must infer, says Maran, that even the height of one's
aspirations, the pinnacle of anything a person might dream of
in this world -- to receive the Torah [firsthand]! -- is of
no value and not worthwhile if Moshe must intrude upon
Aharon's territory and cause him hurt. This is what Moshe
This is an awesome lesson! That even the most precious thing
cannot be viable if it steps on someone else's toes in the
process. If one does a good thing but another suffers from
it, it cannot possibly be truly successful.
To all the poignant, forceful thoughts just expressed, Maran
added a message that summed it all up, laying full weight
upon good character traits involving one's fellow man.
"I heard from R' Isser Zalman that after Chazal interpreted
the verse, `You shall love Hashem your G-d,' to indicate that
one must make Hashem beloved upon one's fellow man, that one
should read and review and all of one's dealings with others
should be pleasant with everyone. If so, then this goal is
also included under the commandment of the conclusion of that
verse: `With all your heart, and with all your soul and with
all your might.' This means that the obligation to deal
pleasantly with every human being must, where necessary, even
be taken to the extreme of self-sacrifice!" (See
Machsheves Mussar, pp. 282, 456, 506 and 507).
"To deal pleasantly with one's fellow man, even to the degree
of self-sacrifice" -- this is the essence of the great `work'
of the life story of Maran ztvk'l, as testified by
thousands of facts that were widely publicized. And this is
likewise the preface to that great `work' called "The Book of
the Battles of Hashem," which Maran wrote and bequeathed to
To Weigh on a Scale
Many cases showed the delicate balance and the manner in
which Maran weighed the extreme caution that he exercised in
avoiding every hint of insult to another, just as he
carefully weighed the primary values in the Torah world in
juxtaposition with an adamant and consistent stance to
preserve the purity of his principles.
In the period in which he stood at the center of the battle
of Torah-true Jewry against a certain rabbi, Maran
participated in a wedding at which that selfsame rabbi was
present as the moro de'asra, the official rabbi of
that place. Maran insisted that the rabbi be given honors as
the moro de'asra.
At a certain time when he waged a battle to prevent a certain
rabbi from seizing power over a certain community that
included bnei Torah, Maran happened to overhear words
that showed that some people wanted to extend the battle to
actually challenge his rabbinical credentials for leadership
over any group. Maran reacted with pain, "How can you think
of such a thing? Everyone agrees that he does have the right
to exercise authority over a certain public. Our only fight
is to stop him from extending his authority to our circle.
But why should we wish to encroach upon his territory?"
Maran once had to find out information about a famous rabbi
regarding his outlook in matters that represented the Torah-
true hashkofoh. He asked R' Dovid Frankel about him
and R' Dovid began delivering his opinion at length.
Maran sat and listened in silence. At one point, R' Dovid
began touching upon a personal matter, when Maran suddenly
roused himself and grabbed R' Dovid by the hand, rebuking
him, "R' Dovid! Loshon hora!"