Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Loving Peace and Pursuing Happiness

The phone rang in Reb Chaim’s house at quite an unexpected time. It was past midnight and he was in bed in pajamas, falling into a deep sleep, which was disturbed by the annoying sound of the phone. “Who could that be at this late hour?” thought Reb Chaim. He picked up the phone and answered. The person at the other end of the line did not identify himself. He apologized for calling at this time of night and then said, “Reb Chaim, I have a job for you. It’s an emergency. Can you please come to this and this address and fix my window? I will pay you handsomely for it.”

You see, Reb Chaim was a glazier. He fixed broken windows of all sizes and made a decent parnassah. He appreciated the customer’s business at regular hours and even a bit later, but this was totally out of hand. He yelled into the phone, “Why are you waking me up after a long, hard day of work? The entire day, I climb the steps to the highest floors carrying heavy loads. I work so hard. It is a downright chutzpah to wake me up at this hour!” And with that, he slammed the phone down.

He was about to get back into bed when the phone rang again. Once again, it was an anonymous call. “Please forgive me for waking you up,” said the man, “but this is a real emergency. Come quickly and I will pay triple the amount of what you normally earn for this job.”

“Money answers everything” (Koheles 10:19), so Reb Chaim quickly got up and dressed. He hopped into his truck and, in no time, arrived at the address given. Whom did he see standing at the door waiting for him? None other than the Bobover Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Halberstam.

“What is the rebbe doing here?” asked Reb Chaim.

“The work is on my window. I am the one who called you.”

Understandably, Reb Chaim wanted to bury himself in shame for the way he spoke to the rebbe on the phone. “Why didn’t the rebbe tell me who was calling? I would have run here on all fours and not charge the rebbe a penny for any work.”

The rebbe assured him that he had no reason to feel bad. He did not know who was calling him at this late hour and it was understandable that he was upset. For reasons of his own, he could not identify himself.

Now Reb Chaim got to work on the big front window of the rebbe’s house. He insisted on not charging a penny for his services, but the rebbe would have nothing of it. He paid him three times the normal amount for this job and thanked him profusely for coming.

Before he left, the glazier asked the rebbe, “Yelamdeinu rabbeinu… Why was it such an emergency that I come now in the middle of the night to fix the window, when it could have been covered up temporarily with wood?”

The rebbe agreed to answer his question, but with the explicit condition that he doesn’t divulge what happened to anyone. Reb Chaim revealed the story only after the rebbe was niftar.

Apparently, there was a conflagration of machlokes between two factions of chassidim. The leader of one of the groups came to the rebbe’s home that night, trying to convince the rebbe to support his group. The rebbe tried to prevail upon him to desist from machlokes at all costs, but when he saw that his words were falling on deaf ears, he told him plain and simple that he cannot be part of this machlokes. The person persisted and explained how much damage the opposing group was causing him, but the rebbe held his own. He would not lend his hand to support any side of the dispute.

The man left the rebbe’s house angrily and, in his fury, got some of his supporters to throw stones at the rebbe’s house, shattering the big window pane in the front. What was the rebbe’s concern? Why was it so important to him to get the window fixed immediately that he had to wake someone up so late at night? To the rebbe, it was a matter of pikuach nefesh, because the next morning, when the chassidim would come to daven in the bais medrash, they would see the smashed window and would inquire about it. It wouldn’t take long for them to find out what happened, and then a new conflagration of machlokes would erupt, causing heartache and chillul Hashem. It was most unpleasant and against the rebbe’s grain to arouse someone from his sleep, but here he felt that it was a most pressing need and therefore paskened that it was permissible to do so.

“Hillel says: Be among the talmidim of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to the Torah” (Avos 1:12). It does not suffice to merely love peace. One must be proactive in pursuing it. In this respect, we must learn from Aharon. Chazal tell us that he would go out of his way to bring peace between two people who were in an argument. He would approach Reuven and say, “Shimon is so distressed that there is a rift between the two of you. He is losing sleep over it.” Then he would approach Shimon, saying the same thing about Reuven. They would each soften their stances and would become good friends again.

But being proactive doesn’t merely apply to bringing peace between others. A person must always be on guard to think favorably of others and not look down upon them. If one is not pursuant of peace and lets nature run its course, he can easily find himself disparaging others and distancing himself from friends. The Medrash tells us, “Just as no two people look exactly alike, so too no people are alike in their way of thinking” (Tanchuma, Pinchos 10).

No two people have the same exact chemical makeup, instincts or interests. That is the beauty of Hashem’s creation. There is variety. Every individual has his own purpose in elevating the world based on the personal kochos that Hashem has given him. These differences are accentuated when people come from different backgrounds with different customs. It is easy then to view others as strange or different and not be anxious to associate with them. For this, Hillel instructs us to pursue peace. Do not let your natural tendencies come between you and a fellow Yid. Go out of your way to understand him, to know where he’s coming from and value him for his merits.

In addition to having different tendencies, our personal interests often clash with one another. This could involve monetary matters, or neighbors infringing on each other’s rights or competition in business. When it comes to personal interests, people can get very animated and riled up defending them. It is specifically here that one must be vigilant not to lose himself and act only al pi halacha and in accordance with what proper derech eretz dictates. This takes effort. It takes working on middos and it sometimes takes great inner strength when one is put to the test. Only when one makes the pursuit of peace and loving a fellow Yid one of his life’s goals does he have a constant awareness of the difficulties involved in maintaining peace. Then he can do all it takes to prevent differences from becoming a full-blown machlokes.

Right opposite Reb Shimon’s grocery, a competing store opened. It had higher quality products, better prices, and new sales every week. Unfortunately for him, he had to witness many of his old customers shopping at this new store, as his store was empty. He felt betrayed and hurt, and to ease his situation, he went to his rebbe, the holy Divrei Shmuel of Slonim.

Rebbe,” he cried, “please help me and daven that my competitor closes down his store. He really doesn’t care for anyone other than himself!”

The rebbe tried comforting him, but also added, “Let me tell you a story about my great-grandfather, Rav Moshe Mordechai of Kobrin, who also had a successful grocery. One day, another Yid opened a competing store nearby. He stood in his store watching with angst as his former customers were flocking to the new store because of its better products and lower prices. He hurried to his rebbe, Rav Noach of Kobrin, and handed him a kvittel for a brocha. In the kvittel was written, “Since a Yid opened up a competing store near me and all of my customers are flocking to his store, I need a brocha. I know full well and believe in my heart that a man’s sustenance is designated on Rosh Hashanah and that no one can take away parnassah that is meant for his friend. I therefore ask the rebbe for a brocha that when I see my customers going to the other store, it should not pain me at all.”

The rebbe read the kvittel and blessed him. Sure enough, he returned to his store and continued seeing his competitor’s success and it did not bother him at all.

A short while later, he returned to his rebbe and handed him another kvittel. This time, it said, “The rebbe already gave me a brocha that I should not feel bad when I see my former customers going to the competition and boruch Hashem it worked. Now I have another request. The rebbe should give me a brocha that not only should my competitor’s success not bother me, but I should also be happy with his success, for if any way it does not hinder my parnassah at all, why shouldn’t I rejoice at the success of a fellow Yid?”

As we enter the period of the Three Weeks, when we remember and mourn the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, we must be extra cognizant to strive to maintain unity in Klal Yisroel, not disparaging others, but judging them favorably and helping our brethren as much as we can. Bayis Sheini was destroyed because of sinas chinom, which Chazal say is tantamount to the three cardinal sins.

Why is it called sinas chinom when one has a legitimate gripe against another Yid? Because no complaint, no matter how significant, can override the benefits of loving a friend and keeping the peace. For as long as we are b’achdus, the holy Shechinah dwells amongst us, bringing us blessings far and beyond what we can imagine. One of our key avodos during this period of the year is to work on the lesson of Hillel to love peace and pursue peace. And in this merit, may we see the building of the Bais Hamikdosh and the arrival of Moshiach soon.



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