By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Last week, I had the good fortune of meeting Rav Gedaliah Sheinen, a rosh yeshiva of a yeshiva in Yerushalayim for boys who can’t make it in the regular system. He related various amazing stories from his first-person interactions with gedolei Yisroel.
In his native Hebrew, he said that he doesn’t write at all, and since I am an editor, he imagines that I don’t write well either. He asked me if I know anyone who can write, because he feels that the stories he has experienced and the lessons they impart are very important and should be shared with a wide audience.
I asked him to share one story so that I could gauge how good his stories really are and determine whether they should be written up for a wider audience.
Let me share the story with you and you be the judge.
Rav Sheinen has been blowing shofar for many years at the minyan at which Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv davens. After davening, Rav Sheinen goes with Rav Elyashiv to his two-room apartment and blows shofar again according the shitos of certain Rishonim whose opinions regarding the tekios are not codified in Shulchan Aruch. Those who wish to fulfill these opinions have additional sounds of the shofar blown according to all the different interpretations.
Twenty one years ago, on Rosh Hashanah, Rebbetzin Elyashiv was ill and unable to go to shul to hear the shofar. When Rav Sheinen finished blowing the extra tekios for Rav Elyashiv, he asked the gadol if he should go into the Rebbetzin’s room and blow the sounds according to the Shulchan Aruch so that the Rebbetzin could fulfill the mitzvah.
To his amazement, Rav Elyashiv told him not to. “Today is Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, so the obligation to hear shofar is only miderabonon. Women were not obligated to hear shofar, but they accepted the obligation upon themselves.” ‘Kiblu aleiyhu’ is the terminology in halacha. “Since it is a tirchah for you to blow more kolos, you should rather go home than blow.”
Rav Sheinen left the small apartment and was headed down the steps when he heard Rav Elyashiv coming after him. “Kumpt tzurik – Come back,” said Rav Elyashiv. “It’s true that the obligation to hear shofar today is only miderabonon, and for women it is an even lesser obligation, and that’s why I sent you away. But my wife will be so happy to hear the kol shofar, and by blowing for her, you will be doing a chesed, and chesed is a mide’oraisah. Therefore, I am asking you to come back. For a de’oraisah I can be matri’ach you.”
There are many lessons that can be learned from this story. First and foremost, we see how all of our actions should be dictated by halacha and how, before accepting a favor from someone, we must weigh whether it is absolutely necessary to inconvenience that person. We see how we must be considerate about a person’s feelings. We learn that we must prioritize our obligations and understand how important chesed is.
During this period of Elul, we should take those messages to heart and consider the ramifications of our actions, whatever it is we are doing, and how they will impact others.
Shortly after Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt”l was appointed rov of Brisk, the townspeople approached him and said that they had certain misgivings about the local shochet and wanted the new rov to look into the matter and perhaps replace him. The rov called a meeting and insisted that the shochet in question not be invited. Somehow, the shochet found out about the meeting and showed up, taking a seat alongside the concerned citizens of Brisk.
Every time someone attempted to introduce the issue over which the meeting had been called, the rov steered the conversation in another direction. The people were dumbfounded and finally gave up. The meeting ended without addressing the matter of the shochet.
After the shochet left, the rov explained to the remaining people that he did not want to do anything that would cause embarrassment to the shochet. That was why he didn’t want the shochet at the meeting in the first place and that was why he didn’t permit the topic to be raised. The matter was later resolved.
Whatever problem there was with the shochet could be taken care of later, but if the man’s feelings would be hurt, the wound would remain for a long time.
Whatever must be accomplished should be done with the barest minimum of aggravation.
The idea of being so careful not to hurt a person’s feelings must be uppermost in our minds.
In Sefer Machsheves Mussar based on the shmuessen of Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l, the aveirah of chomos, which sealed the gezar din of the Mabul, is discussed.
The posuk states that the Mabul was brought about because the world became full of chomos. The common explanation is that the decree was sealed due to the commonality of swindling and thievery. Rav Shach quotes a Medrash which states that the people who lived at the time of the Mabul were guilty of chomos devorim. He cites the Vilna Gaon who explains that just as it is sinful to steal less than a shavah perutah, one who protests too loudly against a person who robbed him is also considered a chamson. And just as the gezar din was caused by those who were financial chamsonim, so was it caused by verbal chamsonim.
If you scream too loudly at someone, even someone who caused you a loss, and you embarrass him more than he deserves to be shamed, you have sinned.
A couple of years ago, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman created a storm when he wrote a letter admonishing people to be more careful about the way they speak to each other.
“It’s known that in our holy Torah, there are laws bein adam laMakom as well as bein adam lachaveiro. The Aseres Hadibros are composed of halachos pertaining to the relationship between man and his Creator, and laws that prevent us from harming our fellow man.
“Ona’as devorim, the sin of hurtful speech, is more serious than the sin of harming another financially. It applies equally between a man and his wife and a woman and her husband… This ban includes hurtful words of any kind…
“People are moreh heter to themselves, such as when a teacher or rov says that they have to humiliate someone to ensure discipline. But this is not correct. We can only do whatever is necessary to prove the point, but not to humiliate one another! It’s even more serious when the humiliation is done in public.
“A rov or teacher must get his point across, but in a way that doesn’t embarrass. Generally, the one who feels he is being humiliated will retaliate twice as strong. The teacher’s act of shaming the child is certainly in the category of ona’as devorim. One must be very careful about this. Parents, as well, shouldn’t embarrass their children.
“When one causes suffering to others, he is punished in Olam Hazeh, too. Every person must pay attention to what he does and what he says so as not to hurt his fellow man. The truth is that the punishment is much worse in Olam Habah, but most people are not aroused by what they can’t see directly, so I am speaking about something that everyone understands well…
“One who is careful not to hurt other people will merit all the brachos of the Torah and will enjoy a pleasurable life in this world and the next.”
During the time remaining until Rosh Hashanah, let us all resolve to be more thoughtful of others and let us be more careful about how we speak to others and how we conduct ourselves. In that merit, may we all be zoche in the upcoming din.