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9 Iyar 5761 - May 2, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Honoring Others While Doing a Mitzvah

by A. Avrohom

"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 62b).

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 talmud Torah.

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 Torah.

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 mitzvah.

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 it."

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 others.

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 Servants

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 meal?

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 HaMidos).

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 them?"

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 droshoh.

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 said:

"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."

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