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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayera 5777 "The Other Guy"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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These thoughts are lovingly dedicated in memory of my Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok a’h, whose yahrtzeit is Friday, 17 Cheshvan.

Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlita[1] relates the following story:

A man in Eretz Yisroel was driving along a road late one night through an area dubbed a ‘danger zone’ because of recent gunshots that were fired at drivers in the area. Suddenly he noticed a car pulling up hastily behind him, flashing its lights signaling that he wanted to pass him. The first driver became fearful, because a day earlier a similar incident had ended up in a vicious shooting attack.

In order to prevent the second car from overtaking him, the first driver began driving in a zigzag, weaving from one side of the road to the other. He continued driving that way until he arrived at his home.

When he pulled up in front of his home he stopped his car. The other driver stopped too and got out of his car. The first driver was happy to see that it was a Jew and he breathed a sigh of relief. But his relief was short lived. The second driver was livid at the first driver for how he had driven and began to beat him without compunction. The second driver viciously punched the other in the face numerous times until he was bleeding copiously, and his nose was broken.

The first driver tried to explain himself but the other man was so infuriated that he wouldn’t listen. He continued reigning blows on the hapless driver as neighbors and passerby gathered around and demanded that he stop.

When the debacle finally ended the first driver went into his home beaten and bloodied. Sometime later he called Rabbi Zilberstein to ask him whether he should file a complaint with the police against his assailant. The Rabbi replied that he should wait until the next morning and they would decide then.

The next morning when the man failed to call Rabbi Zilberstein, the Rabbi decided to call him. When he came to the phone the man explained that during the night he had decided that he would not file the complaint against the man who broke his nose.

He related that after he hung up the phone the previous night he realized that he would probably have to go to the hospital and hire a private doctor, which would cost him thousands of shekel. But the assailant has a prestigious job in a prominent firm, and he earns a good living. If such a report was filed with the police it would besmirch his reputation very badly. He would not be able to deny his actions because there were numerous witnesses. He would probably be fired from his job and he would lose his source of income.

Then he continued, “So instead of filing the complaint I invited him to my house for Shabbos. I am confident that when he sees the beauty of a Shabbos table in a Torah-observant home he will reconsider his path of life. Perhaps he will even decide to learn more about Torah and mitzvos. That will be my greatest reward. Perhaps at some future point I will be able to take him to Bais Din (Jewish Court). But I will not file a compliant against him in secular court or engage him in a legal battle which may cause him untold damage.”

Despite the fact that he was a hundred years old and had just underwent a painful procedure that left him in pain, and despite the fact that it was an unusually brutally hot day, Avrohom Avinu sat at the entrance of his tent, waiting and pining to demonstrate kindness to others and teach them about G-d. When he finally notices three ‘Bedouins’ traveling in the distance he jumped up with alacrity and implored them to join him. Then, as they sat comfortably in the shade, he prepared a regal meal for them.

Rashi, quoting the gemara[2], notes that Avrohom slaughtered three calves in order to serve each guest his own tongue with mustard, truly a royal delicacy.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l[3] noted that a person as righteous and saintly as Avrohom was surely personally beyond indulgence in such delicacies. Yet in regards to his guests he did not hold back anything and served them as he would aristocracy.

Rabbi Pam derives from Avrohom’s behavior an integral lesson: A person must always be striving for spiritual greatness. This includes overcoming his own desires and inclinations and not always pampering himself in enjoyments and pleasures. Yet when it comes to others one must do all in his power to make the other person as comfortable and content as he is able.

A Torah Jew strives to live his life with a focus on eternity, often forfeiting material comforts in that quest. But he must bear in mind that others are not on his spiritual level, and in regards to matters of food, clothing, home furnishings, and honor one must respect others on the level that he is on.

This idea is vital in regards to education as well. At times parents forget what it’s like to be a child and may make demands on their children that are unreasonable. Surely a parent has a responsibility to admonish his child, but it must be based on the child’s capabilities and capacities.

A distinguished ba’al teshuva related to me that he struggles with this idea constantly. As he was not raised in a Torah environment he does not know what it’s like to be ‘normal religious kid’. He became Torah observant when he was a mature adult and so at times it is hard for him to fathom how his child can act so childish. He is wise enough to know that he must seek the counsel of others to know what is acceptable and what is not.

After Avrohom rescued Lot and defeated the massive combined armies of the four kings, the king of Sodom approached him about the spoils of the war[4]. The King of Sodom offered Avrohom all of the spoils if only he would grant him the freed captives. Avrohom emphatically refused the offer, “If so much as a thread to a shoe-strap; nor shall I take anything of yours, so you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’.” The gemara[5] explains that in the merit of his refusal to accept even a thread or shoe strap Avorhom’s children merited the mitzvos of tzitzis (for the thread) and tefillin (for the strap).

Rashi explains that Avorhom’s actions were particularly meritorious because he did not want to benefit from stolen property[6].

Although Avrohom was legally entitled to the spoils, the King of Sodom clearly did not see it that way. The mere fact that he approached Avrohom with terms for a bargain demonstrates that he felt he had claims and rights, and by offering Avrohom the spoils he felt like he was making a magnanimous gesture. The greatness of Avrohom was that he was that he dealt with the King of Sodom based on his perception. Despite the fact that according to the letter of the law Avrohom was perfectly justified to take at least the spoils of the war, because in the mind of the wicked Sodomite King he would have been a thief, Avrohom decided to forego every penny.

Avrohom understood that as the champion of belief and kindness he represented G-d, as it were. Therefore he had to be concerned even for faulty perceptions of others.

The mitzvah of tefillin instills awe in all who see them[7]. It is not the tefillin themselves that garner that awe but rather in what they represent – a Supreme Being. It is analogous to the badge of a policeman – it is not the badge that people fear, but the institution it represents and the authority that institution wields. Similarly, when a Jew wears tzitzis it is akin to a slave who wears the insignia of his master upon his garment[8].

Because Avrohom demonstrated that he was willing to deal with others based on their perception of reality, he was rewarded with mitzvos which help engender within us a cognizance of the true reality. It is one’s ego that impedes his ability to see things from another’s point of view. Avrohom displayed a complete lack of egocentricity, which is at the core of acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven. We often try to compel others to live within our reality. The truly great person is able to reach beyond himself and see things from the viewpoints and perceptions of others. This is a vital prerequisite for one to be able to realize the viewpoint of the Torah and G-d in any situation.

One of the legacies of Avrohom is the ability to see beyond ourselves, to see the world as other’s see it and to understand their reality.

“He stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.”

“So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR

Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

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[1] Aleinu L’shabayach, Bereishis 6:10

[2] Bava Metzia 86b

[3] “A Vort from Rav Pam”, Rabbi Sholom Smith

[4] The following idea was related by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig

[5] Chullin 89a

[6] Maharsha questions the assumption that it was stolen property, because halachically the spoils of the war belonged to Avrohom.

[7] Chullin 89a

[8] See Tosafos Menachos 43b

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