Years ago, in 1968 to be precise, we were saddened to hear of the mysterious disappearance of an Israeli submarine, the Dakar. Sixty-nine sailors aboard the craft were literally lost at sea. Pieces of the wreckage were first found in 1999, but the mystery was never solved. On the day this misfortune was publicized, there was a simcha going on in the dining room of Yeshivas Kol Torah. One of the talmidim had become a chosson, and upon his return to yeshiva, the bochurim were dancing with him.
The rosh yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, was sitting in his study and heard the merriment coming from the dining room. He was unaware that the bochur became a chosson and was upset that bochurim were singing at a time when the entire country was mourning the lost sailors. He went down to the dining room and reprimanded the bochurim, “How can you sing and dance at a time of such misfortune, when there is sadness throughout the land?”
Later it became known to the rosh yeshiva that the rejoicing was in honor of the chosson and he was very upset that he had suspected the talmidim of insensitivity. He could have made a public announcement asking the bochurim for mechilah, but for Rav Shlomo Zalman this did not suffice. Throughout the entire zeman, he made sure to find an opportunity to speak to each and every talmid separately and to ask him for mechilah.
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Even while performing a mitzvah, the Chofetz Chaim was careful not to cause anyone hurt feelings. It was during World War I, Sukkos was approaching, and one could not find an esrog or lulav. With great effort, some people close to the tzaddik managed to obtain them. When Sukkos arrived, the Chofetz Chaim took the daled minim to fulfill the mitzvah, but during Hallel, he did not take them for the mitzvah of naanuim.
When asked about this, the Chofetz Chaim explained, “For being mekayeim the mitzvah of daled minim, everybody could be yotzei with these, but for the naanuim of Hallel, only I will be able to fulfill the mitzvah, and if I do so, it would cause aggravation to the others who cannot perform this mitzvah. It is therefore worthwhile to forgo the naanuim, which is merely a holy minhag, rather than cause people pain, which involves numerous asei’in and lavin de’Oraysa.
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Throughout his life, Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld devoted great effort not to hurt anyone’s feelings and to burden anyone. In his older years, the doctor advised that he leave his home to stay on the outskirts of Yerushalayim, where the air was clearer. He stayed at the Diskin Orphan Home, where he was accorded great honor and free room and board. Despite the fact that he was deeply involved in the running of this organization, he insisted on paying for everything to the last penny.
One day, feeling very weak, he asked his son to bring him back to his home in the Old City of Yerushalayim. The doctor insisted that for his health he remain at the orphan home, but he was adamant that he must return home. His confidant, Rav Moshe Blau, asked, “Why doesn’t rebbi want to stay here longer, since the clear air is beneficial for his health?”
Rav Yosef Chaim answered, “I feel that my end is nearing. You know that the minhag of Yerushalayim is that people carry the aron of the niftar by hand all the way to Har Hazeisim. This means that the chevra kadisha will have to carry me the entire distance from the orphan home at the west of the city to Har Hazeisim, which is to the east of the city. This is an extreme burden on them, as it will be on all whose who are present to escort the aron.”
Rav Moshe was shaken by this answer and asked, “Isn’t it detrimental for the rov’s mood to think like this? It can lead to depression.”
Said Rav Yosef Chaim, “From the day I reached the age of forty, I never took my mind off of the last day of my life and it doesn’t affect my state of mind.”
How great were our gedolim and what exceptional role models they are for us. They were astounding in their Torah knowledge and they were unique in their deep devotion to serving Hashem. They had the world on their shoulders, carrying the burden of the tzibbur, and caring for the needs of Yidden everywhere. And yet, with all of their greatness and the pressures they faced, they were still keenly sensitive to the feelings of individuals. They made every effort to be as pleasant to others as possible. Contrast this with what we see in the world today.
World events are meant for us to learn from. When there is calamity in the world, we must assume that it is meant to shake us up to repent and come closer to Hashem. And when we see wrongdoing, we should find it repulsive and improve our own conduct, whether it is in our relationship with Hashem or with our fellow man. Unfortunately, the pace of life is so fast that we don’t have a chance to stop and reflect on daily events. In addition, we are bombarded by so many bits of news information so quickly that we don’t have the time to process their lessons.
“Like the shame of the thief when he is discovered” (Yirmiyahu 2:16).
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines, publicly apologized for an incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight leaving Chicago. Dr. David Dao was dragged out by security guards and was banged up in the process. He did nothing wrong. He paid for his ticket fair and square. But in their lust to make more money, United overbooked the flight and then randomly selected him and his wife, offering them a pittance for compensation. Dr. Dao refused, saying that he must travel now to keep appointments with patients scheduled for the next morning. Passengers on the flight were shaken and very upset at how this innocent man was treated. And now, Munoz looked very contrite as he vowed that United Airlines would take a series of steps to improve its policy on overbooking and compensation to passengers.
How sweet and caring of him. But Mr. Munoz initially defended the actions of his company. At first, he claimed that it was the passengers’ fault and that his employees acted in a proper manner. It didn’t dawn upon him at the time that passengers recorded the incident on their smartphones. The recording went viral and was watched by millions. It wasn’t a pretty sight with the passenger screaming in pain as he was being pulled off the plane. The video sparked a public uproar, with United’s stocks plunging and the company facing criticism and mockery from the news media. That will cause a CEO to change his tune quickly.
It all stemmed from longstanding airline policies to squeeze more people onto planes and more money out of their pockets. What a lack of kavod habriyos. But if you thought that United was really doing teshuvah, another incident just two weeks later showed the opposite. A United plane filled with passengers waited on a tarmac for five hours in the heat without offering the customers water or air conditioning. One can imagine what the passengers’ reaction was when they were freed from this prison. Again, it was a public relations debacle, which will probably be repeated in the future. Because when your bottom line is the almighty dollar, the needs and feelings of people are ignored. Promises will be made to correct the situation, but pretty soon the matter will be forgotten.
One would expect for our elected officials to act in a dignified and respectful manner, at least to each other. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Recently, when the House of Representatives voted to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, it was accompanied by theatrics. The Republicans, finally able to muster the votes for change, had victory music played while the Democrats all sang the well-known song, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye!” implying that the Republicans will feel the ramifications of this vote when they are defeated in the next elections. It was like a color war at Congress, but this wasn’t fun and games. One could feel the animosity in the air as each party derided the other.
It seems comical, but it is really very sad. No one is willing to hear the other’s opinion, nor are they willing to compromise on anything. It is a house divided and it doesn’t bode well for the country. It is indicative of a great breach amongst the citizens of our land. And it doesn’t look like anyone will be able to bridge the gap very soon. How bright can the future of our country be when its leaders don’t respect each other and can’t get together on anything? Observing such behavior should inspire us to act in the opposite extreme, to excel in kavod habriyos, in caring for others, in being sensitive to their feelings, and in treating them with the greatest respect.
“You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 9:18). The Torah doesn’t merely say to love your fellow. It adds as yourself. Yourself is the moshol for how you must love your fellow. This means that in order to fully love our friends, we must first learn to love ourselves. Only then can we extend that love to others.
Do we really love ourselves the way we should? In a physical sense, we do. We are motivated to take care of all our physical needs because we care for ourselves. But do we really appreciate our essence, our greatness, and how much we matter to Hakadosh Boruch Hu? Every Yid deep down inside would love to serve Hashem on a higher level than he does. We’d love to learn more, daven with more kavanah, and give more tzedakah than we do. But our limitations, the various pressures we face, do not allow us to reach the goals we would like to attain. Hence, we feel like failures and lose our sense of self value. In the process, we don’t appreciate the value of our friends.
Chazal say that even the sinners amongst Klal Yisroel are filled with mitzvos like a pomegranate (Eiruvin 19a). What, then, shall we say about a frum, ehrliche man or woman who wants nothing more than to live an upright life of serving Hashem? How saturated with mitzvos they are and how precious they are to Hashem.
The Chofetz Chaim writes that someone in our generation can attain very high levels of kedusha and receive an abundance of reward with much less accomplished than was necessary in earlier generations, because as the generations progress, the tumah and hester Ponim is amplified and we must work harder for our accomplishments. In many ways, our nisyonos are greater. While we should always strive for higher levels, we mustn’t lose sight of how great we already are.
Once we realize how special we are, we can look at our friend in a new light and cherish him. What an honor it is to be friends and neighbors with fellow Yidden who are so precious to Hakadosh Boruch Hu. They are vessels of kiddush Sheim Shomayim. The Toldos Yaakov Yosef quoted his rebbi, the Baal Shem Tov, saying that one person, through his Torah and tefillah, brings a flow of sustenance to the various olamos, and even the malachim receive their support through our avodah. Hakadosh Boruch Hu waits to kiss our lips when they utter words of Torah and tefillah.
Especially in these days of preparation for Kabbolas HaTorah, it behooves us to internalize how distinguished we are in the eyes of Hashem and what great things we accomplish. This way, we will also appreciate the greatness of our friends and love them as we do ourselves.