Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Teves 5761 - January 3, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
"You Shall Surely Gladden Them"

by Yochanan David

The study session in the kollel was over for the day. The kollelniks gathered up the volumes scattered all over the tables and returned them to their respective places in the bookcase. One devoted member, a modest, unassuming person, quickly collected the glasses, put them back in the tea corner, and disconnected the electric urn; then everyone went out to the waiting minibus parked near the entrance.

During the trip home, the members divided into subgroups according to their particular types: the perpetual masmid, who had left the kollel with a finger securely ensconced inside the text he carried, took a seat near the window and, without delay, reopened his text and continued to study it at the very place he had left off. Others sat silently, engrossed in their thoughts, perhaps summing up what they had learned or trying to crack a tough question that had come up in their study, or perhaps anticipating the evening's activities at home. Some just sat and talked, mainly on Torah- oriented subjects. Let us bend an ear to their conversation.

" . . . and I approached an acquaintance from the neighborhood, I won't say who," said Chaim, "and said to him: `Look, I know you are free every Tuesday evening because you aren't committed to any special shiur. I have a favor to ask. Our neighbors are making sheva brochos for a young couple that hardly has any family in the country. They're distantly related and we're helping out, too. Do you think you could come with your organ and liven things up a bit? Any reason why not?' This guy writhed uncomfortably and said, `I don't feel up to it. It would mean a whole evening down the drain. I'm sorry, but it's not for me.' I said to him, `Come now, you're exaggerating! You need only come for an hour, an hour and a half at most. That's not so terrible. How about it?' And do you know what he said to me? `I'm not your freier. I'm not a sucker who goes wasting an evening for others, just like that. Go find yourself a professional musician or a band.'"

"Hold on a minute," said Yitzchok. "Don't forget that he has a wife who hasn't seen him all day. He probably has to give her a hand putting the kids to sleep or whatever. After all, family comes first. Or as the posuk says, `Mibesorcho al tis'aleim -- don't ignore your own flesh and blood.' Why should he feel obligated to neglect his own family to go and play for people he doesn't even know?"

"I guess you have a valid point," conceded Chaim. "But had he told me that he has to help in the house, I would have understood perfectly and wouldn't have said a word. It was that phrase he used that shocked me. `I'm not a freier,' a sucker. What does that exactly connote? `Don't think that you can take advantage of me, just like that, for your own benefit.' Or, `I'm not the fool to go and do whatever people ask of me. I'm not a naive or stupid fellow who lets everyone walk all over him. If someone wants to dine to the sound of music, they needn't come to me. I have other things to do. I won't be taken advantage of.' That's what the word really implies. And that's what so terrible."

"Sorry," said Oded apologetically, "but I don't see anything so terrible in his reaction. Your friend knows how to play and you are blithely asking him to volunteer his time and talent to play for the sheva brochos. Or for a simchas beis hashoeva, or a chanukas habayis. It certainly is exploitation of his kind heart. Or of his naivete. Aren't there musicians to be had for hire? For money you can get everything! Why should he agree to give of his time and talents? Just because you asked him? So what? Is this reason for him to sacrifice his evening? Why must he feel obligated to be at everyone's beck and call and allow people to take advantage of him?"

The passengers looked at one another in confusion. Then they automatically turned to R' Meshulom, the senior member of the kollel. When he began speaking, everyone strained to catch every word over the humming of the motor. R' Meshulom raised his voice somewhat and said, "Let's review a short episode of our history according to the approach which we just heard. Eliezer, Avrohom's steward, arrives in Choron with a caravan of camels. He comes to the well, prays fervently for heavenly assistance, and then Rivka appears to draw some water, pitcher balanced on her shoulder. She goes down to fill it up and when she ascends, Eliezer runs towards her. No, he does not offer to help her carry the heavy pitcher. Rather, he asks, `Give me some water from your pitcher.' Rivka studies the man who accosted her and the servants who are now tending the ten camels, and she says, `Aren't you ashamed of yourself? You look hale and hearty, and your servants look robust, as well. No one here is crippled, and you want to exploit a little girl of three to draw water for you? I'm no one's fool. Nor am I naive or simple. I won't be your sucker, your freier. If you're too lazy to go down a few steps to the well, you can't be that thirsty. Anyway, what do I care if you remain thirsty? That's your problem and it's none of my business. And besides, they're waiting for me at home. B-y-e . . . ' "

A burst of laughter drowned out the rumbling of the motor and evoked looks of surprise from the other passengers. But R' Meshulom was not yet finished. "If Rivka Imeinu would have answered him thus, she wouldn't have been worthy of entering the home of Avrohom Ovinu, the master supreme of hospitality, and of becoming one of the four Matriarchs. She could not have fitted into the structure of chessed of those who established the foundations of the Jewish people. She would not have been able to bequeath to her children that heritage of kindness that is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of our nation: doers of chessed. All of our history would have been different and Rivka, daughter of Besuel, would not have figured in it."

"I apologize," said Efraim, "but I must say that Rivka, as you just portrayed her now, might have gained recognition as a wise and perceptive child in the modern context. A girl who knows how to protect herself against unfair exploitation. So what is really so bad about this type of person?"

"I didn't say there is something wrong with it. I said that she would not have earned the privilege of figuring in the construction of the House of Israel. The story of chessed begins with Avrohom Ovinu. He did not inherit or acquire the tradition of truth from his father Terach, who was a manufacturer of idols. Avrohom was inquisitive about the world; he probed its workings by himself and came to the conclusion that it had a Creator. Furthermore, he discovered the central guideline that characterized the Creator in His works: unending, limitless lovingkindness showered upon all of His creatures, which He sustains and provides for through grace, compassion and goodness.

"He delivers oxygen straight to the nostrils of all creatures, even the sloths, even those who defy His will through rebellion. Chessed builds and sustains the world. And that is not yet all. Avrohom understood that not only does Hashem's kindness fill the earth; it is the prerequisite of the world, and the requisite of mankind. This He expects reciprocally from man who was endowed with reason and understanding. Hashem expects man to emulate Him in the area of chessed.

"This was the root of Avrohom's practice of hospitality towards erstwhile passersby. This was behind his persistent pleadings on behalf of the people of Sodom. And this characterized the steadfast training and inculcation of these values to his family and household. This was the basis for Hashem's love for Avrohom to the extent that Hashem is referred to by us as `the G-d of Avrohom.'

"Just like your acquaintance could theoretically send the people making sheva brochos elsewhere to find a musician, so could Avrohom Ovinu have hung a notice on the door for all wayfarers to see: `This is NOT a kiosk or a restaurant. Please go to Aneir, Eshkol and Mamre down the road who will provide you with food and drink for a very reasonable fee.' Had he done this, it would have been no sin, but he wouldn't have been Avrohom Ovinu, either, and he would not have exemplified what we know as `the chessed of Avrohom' and all that went with it. His unique stature, singularly outstanding throughout all of history, and his spiritual level as one who emulated the Creator and founded the Jewish nation -- all these would not exist.

"A person who is offered a million dollars but refuses to take it will not be punished for it. One who is given the opportunity to emulate his Creator, Who was the chaperone and the wedding band, as it were, at the wedding of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden of yore, might refuse it with the explanation that he is `not a sucker.' And he won't be punished for it. But can there be a greater punishment than losing the exalted level of striving to be like the Creator?"

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.