Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2 )
“And a man may not afflict his fellow, and you must fear your G-d, because I am Hashem your G-d.”
Rashi, 25:17: Dh: Veloh sonu — Not afflict: “Here the Torah warned about hurtful words, that one may not harm his fellow, and not give him advice that is not suitable for him.
The Torah commands us not to afflict our fellow. This includes hurting him with words or in any other way. For example, Rav Yehuda holds that included in onaat devarim (hurtful words) is looking at an item in a store as if he wants to buy it, but when he does not have any money on him. This can cause pain to the store owner because it gets his hopes up that he will make a sale, only to lead to disappointment when it does not materialize. If we were thinking of examples of hurtful words we would probably think of far more blatant examples of hurting our fellow, such as insulting him or making fun of him. The Gemara demonstrates a much higher sensitivity to causing any pain to our fellow.
The following story shows just how far a person must go to avoid causing any pain to his fellow.1 Rabbi Moshe Chevroni Rosh Yeshivah of Chevron and a nephew of the great Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, related this story in his eulogy for his uncle. He described the period of the war of Independence, when there was a strict curfew in Jerusalem. It was forbidden to leave one’s home from six o’clock in the evening until six o’clock in the morning. Anyone who went out was suspected of being a spy, and was liable to be arrested or even shot. One night, Rabbi Chevroni relates, he heard knocking on the door, and it was none other than Rav Meltzer. Rabbi Chevroni was terrified at what horror made his uncle risk his life late at night.
However, his uncle had a big smile on his face and told him that there was nothing to worry about. He came because there was a Rambam that he could not understand and he thought that Rabbi Chevroni could perhaps help explain it. The fact that Rav Meltzer was willing to put himself in danger showed Rabbi Chevroni how great Rav Meltzer’s love of Torah was.2 After some thought, Rabbi Chevroni suggested an answer which his uncle was satisfied with. He remained in the house, learning, until the curfew was lifted and then he went home. Rabbi Chevroni recounted this story to demonstrate Rabbi Meltzer’s tremendous love of Torah. While this was of course accurate, there was a whole different reason why Rabbi Meltzer made this perilous journey to ask his nephew a question in learning.
Rav Meltzer wrote a seminal series of works on the Rambam, ‘Even HaEzel’. One night, after a long period of preparation he was ready to publish the last volume and was preparing to bring it to the publisher the next morning. Then he suddenly said to his wife that he could not print it tomorrow. In response to her understandable astonishment, he explained: “My book includes a question asked by my brother-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Cohen, the Rosh Yeshivah of Chevron. Elsewhere, in the book is the answer to the question, provided by my brother-in-law’s son-in-law, Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, another Chevron’s Roshei Yeshivah. Just now, I realized that my nephew, Rabbi Moshe Chevroni, is not mentioned in the book. I’m afraid that if I publish the book as it is now, his grandchildren will ask, ‘How come our grandfather is the only Chevron Rosh Yeshivah who’s not mentioned in your book? It might make him feel bad. If even one person feels bad because of my book, I don’t want to print it! Better for me to put it into genizah than to cause someone to feel bad.”
Rabbi Isser Zalman suddenly had an idea. He had a question on the Rambam, and he had ten possible answers to the question. However, he decided to go in the middle of a curfew to his nephew to ask the question. “He’s a great Torah scholar – he’ll surely find an answer to the question. Then I can add his answer to my book!” And that’s what he did. He ran to Rabbi Chevroni’s house, explained the question and listened to his answer. The next morning, he ran home and wrote his nephew’s answer in his book!
A number of lessons can be derived from this incredible story. Firstly, it teaches that even the performance of a great Mitzva such as publishing a book is not worth potentially causing even a small amount of pain to one’s fellow Jew.
Secondly, while clearly, Rav Meltzer was on an extremely high level in his sensitivity to others, his concern for what could have happened many years later, can teach each person on his level to try to consider consequences of our own words and actions. For example, if one is talking to a person who has a weakness in a certain area, or is suffering in a certain way, then one should avoid bringing up the success of other people in that area, as doing so will likely cause the listener at least a degree of pain.
May we all merit to emulate in some way Rabbi Meltzer’s concern to avoid causing any pain to our fellow.
- “A Treasury of Stories for Rabbis and Teachers, Part 2, Middot, pp.47-50.
- It should be noted that according to Jewish law, it is forbidden to put oneself in danger for Torah learning. As explained below, Rabbi Meltzer really had a different reason, that perhaps he felt was justified according to Jewish law. Alternatively, perhaps he felt that the risk of danger to go out on one occasion was not high enough to prevent going to Rabbi Chevroni’s home.
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