This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
Rabbi (Reb Yehuda Hanasi - Judah the Prince) says, "Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? He must pick that which is honorable for him who adopts it, that which is distinguished, and also brings him honor from others....
Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi was the leading sage post the destruction of our second temple. His claim to fame was taking the Oral law in a period of serious upheaval and compiling it for the coming generations. This compilation is a cryptic shorthand called the mishnah.
The sages often refer to Rabbi Yehuda as "Rebbe" since he was considered the paradigm of the Jewish leader. This belief stemmed from a combination of good midot (sterling character traits) coupled with his ability to rule firmly but lovingly. The Talmud tells the story of how he raised his ten fingers toward the heavens at the end of his life and declared, "In spite of all my wealth, I did not get one pinkie finger's worth of personal enjoyment from this world. Everything I did I did for the sake of heaven." Now, that's talking righteous.
In the above quote, Rebbe mentions the approach one must take within the context of Torah law so that he may live or lead a Jewish society. When it comes to doing mitzvot, he is telling us, it's not a matter of "Will I do the mitzvot?" but "How will I do mitzvot?" For instance, everyone has an opinion on how much money one is obligated to give charity. Some prefer giving a little while others insist on giving much more! How can we find one answer that works for everyone? The scholars of bygone times found a Biblical which solved the problem: "All that you shall give me, tithe will I tithe it to you" (Genesis 28:22). Tithe is another word for one tenth. Now, the double use of the word "tithe," says our sages, lets us know that we have a minimum of one tenth to donate and a maximum of one fifth. Rebbe drew a principle from this mitzvah that when one does a kindness, it must benefit him, his family and the world at large.
R' Yisrael Salanter (the father of the mussar movement) demonstrated this principle all his life. He told everyone, "If you do a kindness, knowing that someone will suffer as a result, in G-d's eyes, there was no kindness done." His teachings led him all over Europe. At some point he found himself in a little Jewish village in town -----. The morning after he spoke, a minyan (quorum) escorted Rav Yisrael to the local shul (synagogue) for prayers. They walked in the dead of winter and as each man lined up to wash his hands at the shul, he shivered with cold. When it was Rav Yisrael's turn, the other men noted with surprise that he poured only a few drop onto his fingertips (normally, a person washing his hands will wash three times on each hand and up to the wrist). They approached him after prayers and asked why he hadn't poured the required amount. The Rav answered, "I know that the water carrier brought only enough liquid for ten men. Today, there was eleven. I didn't want the eleventh guy to yell at the water carrier for not leaving him enough to wash with. Why should I do a mitzvah at his expense?"
We learn from these two examples that when it comes to doing mitzvot, we must keep others in mind, that is, whether they are directly or indirectly involved with your actions. Therefore, if you suddenly have an epiphany and want to turn your whole lifestyle upside down, don't just catch your family by surprise one morning by announcing, "Guess what guys? We're moving to Israel," or something similarly flabbergasting. Instead, you can discuss the matter: call a family meeting and talk over your brain storm with them. Generally, all good things take time, and if we wish to move forward in life, whether in areas of chesed (kindness) or self improvement, we need to make sure these do not come at the expense of others.
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