We are living in unprecedented times and they require great things of us. Since Chazal (Sukkah 5b with Rashi) teach that “tafasta merubah lo tafasta – don’t try to do too much, for you may end up with nothing,” I would like to humbly suggest concentrating on two middos to help get us through the rest of this long nisayon. One relates to our bein adam laMakom, our relationship with Hashem, and one to our bein adam lachaveiro, our relationship with each other. Not surprisingly, they work hand in hand to make us much better people.
Let us begin – respectfully – with our Creator. It is time for a bit more bitachon. We have all, quite understandably, become disenchanted and disappointed in our elected officials. They have lied to us and denigrated us. They have heaped scorn upon us and dredged out old anti-Semitic tropes that we had thought were dead and buried. But we must look deeper to understand the source of it all, without exonerating the guilty ones. My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, wrote many years ago (see A Path Through the Ashes, pages 41-43) that Hashem has taught us throughout history that whenever we become reliant upon gentile leaders and society, He teaches us not to trust in them or their promises. Undoubtedly, there is room for shtadlonus and hishtadlus, but we must always keep in perspective Who is really in charge. The Chovos Halevavos writes at the very beginning of Shaar Habitachon (the new ArtScroll edition, page 4) that one of the most important benefits of total reliance upon Hashem is “that one experiences peace of mind.” In other words, knowing that the world is not chaotic and haphazard, realizing that our Father in heaven is in control, is the source of a great deal of satisfaction. We may not understand, but we know that there is a Grand Plan and a reason for everything.
The second middah, which is in our interpersonal relations, is more difficult to achieve. It is called vitur or vatranus. In English, this roughly means to forgo, yield and readily forgive. In Lashon Hakodesh and Yiddish, we simply say to be mevater. Semantics aside, it may be a middah we should have gleaned from the pandemic itself, but it is hopefully not too late to learn. We have gone through many separations, having been wrenched from our loved ones, shuls, schools and often livelihoods. Governments and politicians have turned against us, and yet we seem not to have heeded the lesson that our strength must be from within. We have astoundingly descended to fighting in the streets when Hashem wants us to be one nation. We have had the opportunity to grow closer at home, but therapists, mediators and arbitrators tell us that we are falling apart at the seams. The great times of spiritual potential have come and gone. Pesach, Sefiras Ha’omer, Shavuos, the summer period of national aveilus, the Yomim Noraim and the joy of Sukkos should have refined and elevated us. Instead, we are still bickering about masks and porches, mayors and governors.
Chazal taught us to be mevater in many different ways. “Hashem loves those who give in and don’t insist on their honor and demands” (Pesachim 113b). Those who accept suffering happily and don’t answer insult with insult are considered the true heroes (Shabbos 88b). Those who don’t demand punishment for those who have offended them are themselves exempted from severe judgment (Rosh Hashanah 17a). Those who swallow hard and don’t answer back are considered to be holding up the entire world (Chulin 89a).
Perhaps if we have been home much more than usual with our families, tempers and patience have frayed a bit. However, Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 9:2) remind us, “If wine has spilled, oil has been lost or clothing has become torn, look aside and Hashem will replace all your losses.”
The Chofetz Chaim (Shemiras Halashon 2:8) quotes Chazal, who say that Dovid Hamelech merited becoming the fourth wheel of the heavenly chariot when he was silent in the face of Shimi Ben Geira’s curses.
To combine the bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro, Chazal (Yoma 69b) relate that the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah inscribed in our daily Shemoneh Esrei that Hashem is a Gibor. “What exactly is this display of strength? It is that He withholds His anger from those have sinned against Him.” When we control ourselves, especially with our loved ones, we are fulfilling the mitzvah of emulating Hashem and of being kind to those around us simultaneously.
Unfortunately, but perhaps quite naturally, we have engaged in quite a bit of complaining and grumbling during these past seven months. Let us turn to our gedolim to learn what it means to be mevater.
When Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld first arrived in Yerushalayim in 5633 (1873), he visited the Kosel with another Jew. A certain Arab storekeeper spotted the distinguished rov and immediately threw a rotten orange at him. Although the rov later picked up quite a bit of Arabic, at the time he knew only Yiddish and responded, “Ah sheinem dank.” The Arab recognized the Yid with Rav Sonnenfeld and demanded angrily, thinking that he had been cursed, “What did the rabbi say?” The Yid explained with a smile, “The rabbi thanked you in the Yiddish language.” Now thoroughly puzzled, the Arab inquired somewhat meekly, “Why did you thank me?” The rov answered, “I thanked you for not throwing a stone.” From that moment, the Arab and all his friends showed great respect to the new rov in town (Sefer Mara D’ara Yisroel).
Rav Aryeh Leib Hakohein, the son of the Chofetz Chaim and later av bais din of Radin, explains the background behind one of his father’s letters (Michtevei HaChofetz Chaim, page 12). A letter arrived at the tzaddik’s home from a prominent rov who was quite ill, begging the Chofetz Chaim to daven for a cure. He admitted that he had denigrated the Chofetz Chaim and was certain that he was being punished for his terrible sin.
“I saw my father lift his shoulders,” Rav Aryeh Leib annotates, “when he read these words. “With his tremendous humility, he responded, “I am mortified by your pain, but I am sure that you were not punished because of me. On the contrary, I beg forgiveness that you are in distress because of me. I wish you a refuah sheleimah from the bottom of my heart.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein, too, was once approached for a haskamah, a letter of approbation, from someone who had vilified him in print and accused him of many mistakes and fallacious decisions. Rav Moshe immediately sat down to write him a glowing letter of support. One of Rav Moshe’s grandchildren protested, “Zaidy, how far must you go for a person who offended you so severely?” Rav Moshe’s answer should be a wake-up call to us all. “But Yom Kippur has passed since then,” he responded sweetly. “He must have done teshuvah, so I must treat him as if that never happened.”
If Yom Kippur has passed and we are once again without yeshivos and full botei medrash, perhaps our Yom Kippur was not what it should have been.
Lest we think that only the greatest of sages are capable of this kind of vitur, let’s listen to a story where the hero was a young student, not the famous teacher of future gedolim.
Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka, had a talmid who was the victim of lashon hara regarding a shidduch. Not only did the shidduch fall through, but as a direct result of the slander, the young man was drafted into the Russian army, where he suffered terribly for a long period of time. In the meantime, the perpetrator of this dastardly deed repented for his horrific offense. Not having the courage to face his victim, he wrote to the Alter to intercede with the bochur and ask his forgiveness. The bochur immediately responded that he forgave his accuser completely. Famed for his understanding of each person’s nature, the Alter interrogated the young man, making sure that his mechilah was completely sincere, before reacting. When he was satisfied that the talmid meant his forgiveness without reservations, the Alter showered him with brachos and held him up as an example in Slabodka of the great middah of vitur (Tenuas Hamussar 3:21).
If we could only find it within ourselves to have absolute and complete trust in Hashem that whatever He does is for our best and forgive those around us for whatever we perceive is less than perfect, we would surely be closer to eradicating this terrible gezeirah and mageifah from our midst. We have surely lost our way if any of us are not behaving like bnei Torah in the streets of our cherished neighborhoods. Let us look within, trust in Hashem completely (see Gra, Mishlei 3:5), and daven powerfully to Hashem. This, not politicians, can be the source our yeshuah bekarov.