"R' Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim from
Geves until Antifras, and they all died in one period of
time because they did not honor each other" (Yevomos
This is beyond our understanding. We are too small to
formulate assumptions why R' Akiva's talmidim
perished. Choliloh for us to assume they simply did
not honor each other! Theirs was not our generation; it was
not even ten generations before ours. Those talmidim
of R' Akiva must be judged according to two-thousand-year-
old standards of which we have absolutely no perception.
Nonetheless, we can extract from the commentaries who have
drawn from Chazal a deeper understanding of what really
happened, of the subtle nature of their cheit.
Afterwards we can resolve how to implement these conclusions
in our daily lives.
The Yefeih To'ar contends that R'
Akiva's talmidim sinned in refusing to teach others
Torah. Let us think about this. What is the sin of someone
who does not want to teach Torah? Is he the person's rav?
What requires him to teach Torah to that particular person?
Must he answer his questions? Is it incumbent upon him to
teach the Torah over which he toiled to others?
For his personal advancement in Torah the efforts he devoted
in clarifying the sugya and later reviewing it are
sufficient. Why should he not continue advancing in his own
studies? Why should he stop short and teach others the
basics? Let they themselves labor over their studies and
gain an understanding of Torah just like his.
If someone will attempt to ask him a question in Torah he
will first weigh whether or not it is bitul Torah for
him to stop and answer. He has risen in his concept of Torah
knowledge so why should he bother to answer questions of
someone who still has difficulties and has a much lower
level of Torah knowledge? He therefore dismisses requests
for clarifications because of his own weighty obligation of
Perhaps he even slights the one requesting help in some way
when he declines answering him? Perhaps the other person
feels embarrassed from being brushed aside? That talmid
chochom's conduct stems from his fervent desire to study
Torah, to pursue a more thorough understanding of the
We, of course, cannot judge R' Akiva's talmidim. We
are nowhere near their madreigah to understand their
intentions. Our job is to judge ourselves, the makeup of our
own nefesh. Sometimes because of our eagerness to
fulfill a mitzvah we trample on others, on unfortunate Jews,
on fellow students or friends, who need from us a cheery
smile or encouraging remark.
This is not, choliloh, done maliciously. It is caused
by our impassioned desire to perform mitzvos and the
realization that studying Torah -- "our lives and the length
of our days" -- is of the foremost importance to us. The
rischa de'oraisah (enthusiasm enveloping us when we
study Torah) sometimes induces us to disregard slightly the
feelings of others.
We must, however, be careful about this. We are held to
account for such improper behavior. Humiliating another Jew
when doing a mitzvah is an intolerable sin. We will cite
facts and anecdotes that show to what degree we must be
careful in our relations with others and how gedolei
Torah were mindful not to offend others when doing a
Mechilah for Loshon Hora
R' Yisroel of Salant's mussar system forbade
fulfilling mitzvos or even saving ourselves from being
punished for serious misdeeds if while doing so we must
insult someone. When questioned whether a person may appease
and ask forgiveness from someone about whom he spoke
loshon hora if the person is hitherto unaware of it,
he answered: Although by appeasing him he will cleanse
himself from cheit, his kaporoh does not allow
him to sadden that person, to disturb him by his revealing
what he had done to him if he does not yet know about
Did Not Daven at Length
During his whole life R' Yisroel was wary not to allow his
personal acts of piety to bother others. Although when
davening by himself he would take a long time to end
Shemoneh Esrei, when davening with a
minyan that would wait for him, he would be one of
the first to finish.
After a ta'anis his consideration for others was even
more apparent. R' Yisroel would start the tefilloh
exactly on time, without any delays, so as not to detain
Saying Fewer Piyutim
When the second day of Rosh Hashanah falls on erev
Shabbos we usually try to daven quicker and say
fewer piyutim so that the women can have enough time
to prepare for Shabbos. Baalei batim asked R' Yisroel
which piyutim to exclude. He told them that they can
skip any piyutim they want including unesanoh
tokef, which awakens to teshuvah, so that the
women will not be in a rush to prepare for Shabbos.
He did have one request. He begged them not to omit the long
piyutim between malchuyos, zichronos,
and shoforos that others leave out. Why were these
piyutim preferable to others, even to the unesanoh
tokef? He explained to them that the Chazan becomes
tired because of the long tefillas Musaf of Rosh
Hashanah and the congregation's saying the long
piyutim allows him a chance to rest a little.
Not to Have a Lengthy Shabbos Meal When it Disturbs the
When an acquaintance of R' Yisroel invited him to his
Shabbos meal, R' Yisroel answered that he never agrees to be
a guest unless he previously knows how the house functions
and what happens during the Shabbos meal. The guest
immediately told him with obvious pride: "My house runs
strictly according to halocho. I buy meat from a
butcher famous for his yiras Shomayim. It is glatt
kosher meat without any halachic questions. The cook working
in the kitchen is a fine and tznius woman, a widow of
a talmid chochom and she herself stems from an
outstanding family. My wife too supervises all that is done
in the kitchen. On Shabbos night the table is elegantly set
and between courses we engage in divrei Torah so that
the table will not, choliloh, be considered as `if
they have eaten of offerings to dead idols' (Ovos
3:4). At the table we study dinim together and sing
zemiros of Shabbos. In this way the Shabbos table is
conducted, with full spiritual elevation and lasting until
late at night."
After R' Yisroel heard the details about the host's Shabbos
meal he agreed to the invitation. He, however, presented one
condition: They must shorten the Shabbos meal by two hours.
Left with no choice the host agreed. At the Shabbos meal
they ate one course after another, said some divrei
Torah and zemiros, and in less than an hour they
were brought mayim achronim and said bircas
hamozone. After the meal the host asked R' Yisroel to
explain the reason for his strange request. What did R'
Yisroel find wrong in the way he always conducts his Shabbos
In lieu of an answer R' Yisroel called over the cook, who
was a widow. R' Yisroel cleverly apologized to her and said:
"Please excuse me for overburdening you this evening, by
making you serve the food quickly without any time to rest
between the portions."
The widow answered: "Rebbe, may Hashem send you all the
brochos in the world. If only you would be a guest
every Shabbos night! My employer, may he be well, conducts a
long meal until late at night. I am tired from my work
during the day and am collapsing from exhaustion. I thank
you Rebbe. This evening the meal was over soon and I am now
free to go home and rest."
R' Yisroel told the host: "The unfortunate widow's reply
answers your question and unravels the riddle. Indeed you
run a superb Shabbos table, but it can only be praiseworthy
when it does not disturb the rest of others" (Toras
Also When Trembling Over Our Judgment
One erev Yom Kippur on the way to shul R'
Yisroel saw a person known by all as a yirei Shomayim
passing by. The fear of the judgment on Yom Kippur was
evident on his countenance and even a tear was noticeable on
his cheek. R' Yisroel asked him about a certain matter that
he needed to know, but because of that person's great fear
of Yom Kippur he did not answer.
R' Yisroel caught up with the man and told him: "What am I
to blame that you are a yirei Elokim and tremble
because of the Day of Judgment? What does that have to do
with me? You are obliged to answer my question calmly since
that is the way of helping others and is included in
gemilus chassodim" (Or Yisroel).
Many times we encounter circumstances where doing good deeds
bothers others; being careful in doing mitzvos causes others
to suffer. This type of problem should be rectified during
the sefirah. We should take more notice of others, be
more considerate of them, be careful not to harm them in the
least or cause them any grief. We cannot behave like
tzaddikim when it disturbs others.
I once stopped in a shul where two aveilim
argued about who has the right to daven before the
omud. Their disagreement was so fierce that a fight
almost developed between them. A prominent Jew told them:
"It pains me to tell you this, but your fathers do not need
such a tefilloh for their illui neshomoh. How
can such a tefilloh that comes after a quarrel help
Many times we see that the baal tefilloh takes much
longer than is customary to finish the davening or
someone says a long droshoh when everyone is pressed
for time. If you will ask those people who are actually
abusing the congregation why they are doing this, they will
explain to you that the people will have a zechus to
daven so long or to listen to such a long
Chazal write many halochos about tirchah
detzibura in cases that take up mere moments. It is
mentioned in the din that a person should walk up to
the bimah to receive an aliyah in the shortest
way possible and what a baal tefilloh who made a
mistake in the tefilloh should do to reduce
tirchah detzibura. If in reference to such a brief
time Chazal warn us not to bother others, there is surely no
heter to bother people, albeit with good intentions,
for long periods of time.
In conclusion, we must try to improve our honoring one
another. We should not think only of ourselves -- even when
davening to HaKodosh Boruch Hu. We should
never forget that when doing mitzvos involving our
interrelations with others the rules are delicate and the
consequences for incorrect behavior are terrifying.
It is well known that R' Yisroel said a person should prefer
the needs of his neshomoh to those of his body as
referring only to the person himself. When dealing with
another he should prefer that person's bodily needs since
they are actually the needs of his own neshomoh.
We will conclude this article by citing what the
mashgiach HaRav Yechezkel Levinstein zt'l
(printed in Hizorharu Bichvod Chavareichem) once
"I have a kaboloh from my Rebbes that even the
building of the Beis Hamikdosh is stopped if its
building is liable to harm any Jew."