The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (118b) quotes several statements made by Rav Yosi. He said, for example, that although he was not a kohein, if his friends would have ever asked him to duchen, he would have. He wanted to demonstrate his appreciation to his friends and the lengths to which he would go, including standing next to kohanim as they duchen.
Why did he use the idea of duchening to express love and respect for his friends? It would seem that he could have found a simpler way to express his gratefulness.
Rav Yosi proclaimed another declaration about himself: “Le’olam lo amarti dovor vechozarti le’achorai. I never made a statement and then turned around to see who was listening.” He wasn’t worried about who was listening, because he didn’t speak evil about other people. There was nothing said “off the record.” He never said anything that he feared would leak out and embarrass him or others.
The Tiferes Shlomo explains the connection between the two statements. Rav Yosi’s ahavas Yisroel was so great that he never had to worry about what emanated from his mouth, for he could never speak ill of another Yid. Therefore, his mouth was holy enough to bless other Yidden. Rav Yosi understood that while he was not a kohein, he possessed the middah of ahavah through which kohanim bestow brachos. Therefore, he had the ability to bless other Jews.
Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky achieved world-renown for his piety and brilliance. His seforim, Kehillos Yaakov, were instant classics and are staples in libraries of bnei Torah. People flocked to him for halachic decisions, Talmudic discussion, personal guidance and blessings.
Somebody once asked him what power he possesses that makes his brachos so effective. The aged gaon opened a Chumash to the Rashi on the opening posuk of Parshas Vezos Habrachah. The Torah recounts Moshe Rabbeinu’s parting blessing to his beloved flock. Rashi explains the timing: “She’im lo achshav, eimosai? For if not now, before Moshe’s death, then when?”
The Steipler explained that Rashi is teaching us that in the final chapters of a person’s life, when he has few needs or desires and no longer craves physical enjoyment, his heart is full. Since in order to effectively give a brachah one must have a heart free of personal want or ambition, it follows that “im lo achshov eimosai.” Moshe Rabbeinu’s final days on this earth were especially auspicious for giving brachos.
Continued the Steipler, “I am an elderly man. I can’t hear well. I don’t have many desires. I sit here with my seforim. I have everything I need. If my brachos have any impact, it is because I truly want nothing for myself, only to give to others.”
Sunday night, I merited to see and sit with selfless people, who are consumed with ahavas Yisroel. They are so noble that their very presence itself is a brachah.
Tzaddikim see the good in every Jew, the nekudah tovah, the spark that defines a Yid.
I spoke at the dinner for Ohr V’Daas, the famed school in Monsey, NY, for special children. I was surrounded by tzaddikim; the leadership, staff and supporters of an institution created to reveal the good, the strength and the ability in others. Being in their midst prompted me to share a personal memory.
I recalled how many years back, when one of my sons was a young boy, I noticed him standing in the back of the shul after davening conversing with an older Yid. The man was clearly very emotional and my son was looking at him very intently. I wondered what he could have done to make the old man cry. I was worried, so I made my way over. By the time I got there, the man had left.
I asked my son what it was all about.
“I asked him for a brochah,” he told me. “I don’t know what happened, but the man started crying and then he bentched me.”
“Why did you ask him, of all people, for a brochah?” I queried.
My son responded, “You once told me that the Satmar Rebbe said that if you see a person with numbers tattooed on his arm wearing tefillin, you should ask him for a brochah. While that old man was taking off his tefillin, I saw that he had those numbers, so I waited until he finished and then asked him for a brochah. He asked me why I was asking him, of all people. I told him what you told me from the Satmar Rebbe. He began to cry and finally bentched me.”
So many of us have heard that saying of the Satmar Rebbe, yet few of us have taken it literally enough to act upon it. My son saw the penetrating truth in the story, noticing those hallowed numbers and taking advantage of the situation. With his innocence and lack of cynicism, he merited that blessing.
Today, that man is no longer alive and survivors such as he are few and far between.
So who do we ask for a brochah?
We follow the Steipler’s insight and seek out Torah giants and tzaddikim. We look for people whose hearts brim with ahavas Yisroel. We look for those whose mouths are filled with praise for other Jews, whose actions show just how dedicated they are to others, and we take our place on line and hope.
The staff at Ohr V’Daas and the staff at whatever similar facility or institution is located in your neighborhood are engaged in such gallant work. They have more patience than you thought possible. They work so hard to help the children feel fulfilled. They put their neshamos into breathing life and spirit into these youngsters whom Hashem placed on this earth. If you see someone who works with special children, ask him for a brochah.
If you see a person who dedicates his life to teaching Torah to others, selflessly putting himself out day after day, seek his brochah.
In this week’s parsha, Chukas, the purpose of man is revealed to us.
The Torah relates that Sichon built the city of Cheshbon on land he conquered from Moav. The posuk (Bamidbar 21:27) states, “Al kein yomru hamoshlim bo’u Cheshbon – The poets would say, ‘Come to the city of Cheshbon.’”
Chazal (Bava Basra 78b) explain that the posuk has a deeper meaning with a lesson for us. The word moshlim refers not to poets, but to rulers. “Al kein yomru hamoshlim” refers to people who rule over their yeitzer hora. The Torah is teaching us to make a cheshbon, a calculation, regarding our deeds. Before undertaking an action, a person should contemplate the repercussions of what he is about to do. Will he ultimately gain or lose? When doing an aveirah, he may have some immediate gain, but in the big picture he will be a loser. Sometimes it appears that there is a loss, monetary or otherwise, from performing a mitzvah or following the guidelines of halachah or daas Torah. In fact, the opposite is true.
The Vilna Gaon explains that mussar breaks and mends the heart so that a person can perfect his actions in the future and distance himself from bad habits he has become accustomed to. People who study mussar are moshlim, for as they perceive the significance of their actions and make the cheshbon, they can break their yeitzer hora and live an elevated life.
The Chofetz Chaim explained with a parable the cheshbon implemented by baalei mussar to prevent them from sinning.
An investor perceives that the value of his investment is not arrived at with the immediate gain. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. The savvy investor is in it for the long haul, seeing the bigger picture. What sets the successful investor apart from an unsuccessful one is his prudent vision. When a savvy investor is presented with a deal of quick and easy profits, a red flag goes up. He knows to resist the impulse to buy in and make a quick buck. He waits for an opportunity that appears to be a bad deal, since the initial yield is small, but he sees a future when the value will increase and he will succeed. Foolish neophytes invest in get-rich-quick schemes.
Our generation has been blessed with people who forfeit comfort and ease for a life of toil and labor. They see the bigger picture, working with single-minded dedication to make the world better, and to help individuals and their families. They make the cheshbon and are able to fulfill the second half of the posuk (ibid.), “tiboneh vesikonein,” to build and establish.
The people who work at and for places like Ohr V’Daas, and your local yeshivos and mosdos, are the savviest investors of all.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein tells a story: One morning, the children lining up in front of Yerushalayim’s legendary Etz Chaim cheder were privileged to a rare sight. Back in the days when there were few cars in the Holy City, a taxi, or a “special,” as they called it in those days, rolled up to the front of the building.
The wide-eyed youngsters looked on as the door swung open, certain that they would see a wealthy tourist or high-ranking official emerge. Instead, a melamed walked out. A melamed! A distinguished Yerushalmi Yid to be sure, but one as impoverished as the children in the cheder. The children were amazed. “Wow! Rebbi came in a ‘special’! Maybe he won the lottery! Only rich people travel in ‘specials.’ How did he come to be driven to school in a ‘special’ today?”
The mystery was solved when the children were all seated in class. The melamed told his talmidim that he had been running late because of a situation at home, and as he hurried through the streets to come to teach them, he was struck by the thought that his beloved talmidim would be deprived of a moment of learning. “So I took a ‘special,’ because what is money compared to your learning? It was obvious that this was a good deal.”
The rebbi’s unpretentious words, offered as simple fact, made a powerful impression upon the children. After that, the talmidim had a new appreciation for each moment.
It took sacrifice and privation for the melamed to pay for the luxurious ride, but those talmidim – and generations of talmidim who followed and heard the story – gained a tremendous respect for that rebbi and the ideals he espoused.
That is what it means to make cheshbono shel olam.
Sometimes, we go to dinners or fundraising events out of a sense of duty or respect for the askonim involved. We feel forced. We wish we didn’t have to go. We seek excuses to get out of the obligation. But what a wasted opportunity that is. Such gatherings are actually opportunities to remind ourselves of eternal truths. These events present opportunities to contemplate what drives the selfless men and women who work tirelessly for the cause, be it Torah, chinuch, chessed or tzedakah.
This week, I was privileged to sit with the tzaddikim associated with one such place, but they are all around us. Go to the dinners, auctions, tea parties and events in your city or neighborhood and lend a hand. Make the cheshbon. Do your share to connect with those involved in lighting up the world. This way, you, too, will be blessed.
My dear friend, Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, a friend of every Yid and every mosad in Klal Yisroel, spoke at the same dinner. He quoted the opinion of Rav Yosef in Maseches Bava Kamma that a shomer aveidah, one who finds a lost object, is considered a shomer sochor, a paid watchman. His reasoning is that since the mitzvah of safe-guarding an aveidah frees the person from providing bread to a poor man, it is considered as if he is being paid for watching the object.
How, asked Reb Shlomo Yehuda, can one understand the idea that being absolved of the mitzvah of tzedakah is a gain?
He suggested an answer so appropriate for him: It must be that the benefit isn’t from not having to give. The benefit is that you don’t have to see the pain and distress on the face of the hungry, poor man. Everyone wants to help, but sometimes we can’t make the person’s problems go away and we’re left with the pain of witnessing the poor, suffering individual. One who is watching an aveidah is absolved of that pain. That is the “s’char” referred to by Rav Yosef.
While the thought is great and indicative of Reb Shlomo Yehuda’s huge heart, it also provides a window into the mindset of wise, philanthropic baalei tzedakah. We are blessed in our generation with generous, hartzige Yidden, who feel the pain of others. They see problems besetting the community as personal, and they view our challenges as their own. They are people who invest wisely, making cheshbonos that keep our world going.
As we appreciate all the good people who dedicate their lives to Torah, chinuch and chessed, we should be mechazeik and appreciate the contributions of those who make it possible as well.
As the school year ends it is a most opportune time to also show our appreciation for the rabbeim and teachers who extend themselves to make our children great.
May we always be inspired to be good investors, calculating properly, and finding and appreciating the good in everyone – including ourselves.