That was Reb Dovid Leib.
THE REBBE’S KRECHTZ
Reb Dovid Leib was extremely beloved by the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Meir Hager (1881-1972). Rav Chaim Meir once called Reb Dovid Leib into his room and told him that there was a talmid chochom in Bnei Brak, a follower of the Chazon Ish, who was especially particular about complying with all of the Chazon Ish’s stringencies. “That Yid needs to marry off one of his children and we need to raise a certain amount of money for him,” the Rebbe said. The Rebbe then delineated the amount needed to marry off the child, to buy an apartment, etc. The sum was very large.
Reb Dovid Leib respectfully and full of hachna’ah replied, “For that amount of money, we could marry off four heimishe Yidden.”
With eyes full of pity and a heartfelt krechtz, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe exclaimed, “You, too, Rav Dovid Leib? Have you also resorted to using that mi’esse vort, that filthy, despicable term ‘heimishe Yidden’?”
Reb Dovid Leib would later say, “That krechtz from the Rebbe so deeply penetrated my very essence that not only did I pay for that chasunah, but I also married off all of that person’s children and even several of his grandchildren.”
HEIMISHE YIDDEN – TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHERS?
Let us stop for a second and analyze the Rebbe’s reaction. Why was he so upset? Did not Reb Dovid Leib say something sensible? Why shouldn’t he feel an affinity to those who looked like him, acted like him, and shared the same minhagim as he and the Rebbe?
The Rebbe was railing against a very selfish concept of exclusivity when it comes to assisting a fellow Yid.
This erection of artificial barriers between Yidden, the idea of only helping needy fellow Yidden who look like me, act like me or share the exact same shitah, was so troubling to the Rebbe. He felt that it was based on a deficiency in middos and small-mindedness, and that it was rooted in sinas chinam.
THE APPROPRIATENESS OF BARRIERS…AS A PROTECTION
To be sure, erecting barriers is something that is often important. For example, there is a concept of havdalah bein Yisroel la’amim, a concept that is vital to the existence of Klal Yisroel, especially in today’s world when, if one is not careful, the barriers can be breached from the comfort of one’s own home by instant cyber access to all that the non-Jewish world has to offer.
Even within our own frum world, there is a crying need for boundaries. Certainly, if the standards of observance, the chinuch, and the amount of exposure that you or your family has to certain values differ from those of others, creating boundaries is a viable, and perhaps even a recommended, approach.
Those are examples of when barriers are in order. Yes, every person should proudly observe his own minhagim. Every person should adhere to the level of Yiddishkeit that his family espouses without having any qualms about misplaced achdus and without thinking that our observance should be whittled down to the lowest common denominator for the sake of unity.
Even with regard to minhagim, we see that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. I recall hearing from Rav Shmuel Dishon a story of how once, he, together with his seven-year-old son, was by Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l for Havdalah. While Rav Dishon’s custom was to stand for Havdalah, Rav Yaakov’s custom was to sit. Rav Dishon was afraid that his young son would not understand why Rav Yaakov was sitting. He was afraid that the child, when seeing Rav Yaakov doing things differently than the way he was accustomed, might blurt out something inappropriate. Rav Dishon therefore sent his child out of the room. Rav Yaakov understood what was happening and called for the child. “Let the yingele see that there are different minhagim in Klal Yisroel,” he said. “That is also a lesson for him.”
BAD MIDDOS OR PIETY?
That lesson is one that applies as well to performing chessed for a fellow Jew. Just like there are different minhagim in Klal Yisroel, so too, when it comes to chessed, to helping a fellow Jew in need, the concept of limiting one’s help and resources to “heimishe Yidden,” to my type of Jews, whether it be my chassidus, my yeshiva, Ashkenazim, Sefardim, bnei Torah or baalei batim, is a mi’esse vort.
If a Jew is in need, does it really make a difference what nusach he davens, what yeshiva he attends, which chassidus he identifies with, or which side of the divide he is on with regard to so many other issues that different factions amongst Klal Yisroel disagree about?
When a man is in need, whether it is because he has no money to feed his family or he simply needs a ride home from a chasunah, does it make a difference that he serves Hashem in a slightly different way than I do? Does his differing stance render him as not being bichlal amisecha?
Not only that, but limiting our assistance to those who look exactly like us, think exactly like us, and have the exact same hashkafah as we do is frequently, as the Vizhnitzer Rebbe indicated, the product of terrible middos, rather than piety.
When it comes to helping another Jew, his tzaar should be so acute and so overwhelming in our eyes that we should not analyze what kind of hat he wears, what hechsher he relies upon, or whether he is makpid on yoshon.
Yes, each of us has our own opinion of what constitutes a “heimishe Yid.” “Heimish” in this sense means just like us, to the exclusion of everyone else. The fact that we would make such distinctions when it comes to deciding who we should help or not is ample reason for a krechtz… a deep krechtz, just like that of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe.