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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Devarim Nechmadim on Avos: Fifth Mishna

By Rabbi Sender Haber

Yosi Ben Yochanan was the Head of the Rabbinic Court. He and Yosi Ben Yoezer led the Jewish people for a generation. Both were charged with continuing the legacy of Antigonus Ish Socho that had been so true and yet so ill received by some of their peers.

Yosi Ben Yoezer taught the people hope by encouraging them to connect to wise men, Yosi ben Yochanan wanted to see every man work toward a very deep relationship with G-d. It may be missing in breadth, but it would far make up for it in quality. In Kabbalistic literature this is referred to as ‘Bina’, a deep understanding.

Yosi ben Yochanan realized that not everyone was going to be a sage or even share company with a sage. Everyone, however, has the opportunity to perform a kindness.

I once visited with an elderly woman who was bedridden and had three weeks to live. She was lonely and had no will to go on. I asked her if she smiled when the nurse walked into the room. She answered that she did. I explained to her that her smile had the potential to change the way the nurse felt in her interaction with her and with the other patients. It had the potential to change the woman’s attitude when she came home and sat down to dinner with her family. It was worthwhile for her to go on, if only for her smile.

On another occasion I was approached by a nurse at a long-term care facility. She asked me to pray for her father. I told her I would but pointed out that it would be worthwhile for her to pray as well. She spent all day caring for other people’s parents. She could certainly ask G-d to take care of hers.

Nobody will be perfect at everything, but we can all excel at something.

As a matter of fact, it is often the small things that we truly should be putting our energy into. Everyone wants to save the world; nobody wants to help out with the dishes.

I once ducked into Munkacz on Sixteenth Avenue. I had just spent twenty minutes attempting to single park a twelve seater van that wasn’t mine. I was very frustrated with Boro Park.

I was surprised to find that there was traffic inside Munkacz too. A bottleneck had formed at the stairwell and movement had come to a standstill. Unlike the traffic outside, I noticed that nobody was yelling, pushing, or even talking loudly on their cell phones. At the front of the line was a distraught man pouring out his heart to the Munkaczer Rebbe. The Rebbe was standing riveted to his spot and completely oblivious to the long and patient line of people waiting to go downstairs. This was a type of Boro Park traffic that I could appreciate.

Avraham excelled in opening up his own house to his guests. His house was open on all four sides. He made himself easy to find. Police resent having to give a ticket but once they see something they have a duty to help. We also hope the poor man won’t find us. We don’t want to feel obligated.

Lot learned hospitality from Avraham, but he had a degree of separation from his guests. He believed in welcoming guests but didn’t advertise.

Furthermore, Avraham gave up his privacy completely. His house was everybody’s house.

Modern day Bedouins also continue this legacy of hospitality, but it only begins once someone has entered the home. They are not obligated to allow a person entry. Interestingly, their tents are open on only three sides. The west side is off limits to guests.

Their hospitality is commendable, but it is not quite the tent of Avraham and Sarah.

The Bnei Yissaschar understands the concept of making poor people members of your household very literally. They should be your staff, the people you work with and need to depend on. At the same time, you should not be above helping your guests personally. Avraham ran to help the guests. When he didn’t he sent his children to help.

Antigonus had said that we should be like slaves serving our masters without thought of a reward. The Bnei Yissoschar points out that when it comes to parents and children the roles of slave and master are often switched. Sometimes the master’s role is to be a slave. Yosi ben Yochanan made this a way of life. Treat the poor people as members of your household. Be their slaves. This isn’t about how to make more money or run things more efficiently, this about serving our “masters” in need and ultimately our Master in heaven.

Yosi ben Yochanan is making a tall order, but we can all be a part of it. Next time we do a kindness, we need to take it just one step further than we did before. Be a little more proactive, give up a little more privacy.  G-d does it for us; we can do it for Him.

The Talmud tells us that Rav Shimon ben Shetach once bought a mule. He brought the mule home, and his students discovered a valuable gem hanging around its neck.

All those around him rejoiced at the rabbi’s good fortune. God has answered his prayers! Shimon ben Shetach took the jewel and went immediately back to the merchant to return the jewel. The merchant looked at him with amazement and proclaimed with misery, “It is clearly your jewel” you bought the mule.” The rabbi argued and said, “No, it is yours, I bought a mule, I didn’t buy a jewel.” Upon hearing the words of the rabbi, the merchant exclaimed: “Blessed be the God of Shimon be Shetach!”

By acting G-dly in even one area of our lives, we bring glory to G-d. This is the best way to spread the message of Antigonus.

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Devarim Nechmadim is a commentary on Pirkei Avos by Rav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov. This essay is loosely based on his work as well as on the classes and writings of my father, Rav Yaacov Haber , Shlita.

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