Sefirat Haomer: Affording Respect

9 05 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Sefirat Haomer: Affording Respect

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students perished because they did not treat each other with respect. The lengthiest period of mourning in the Jewish calendar commemorates this tragic era. Even our mourning for the destruction of the Temple does not stretch as long, which teaches us that Hashem deals very strictly with kavod haTorah. Rav Hirsch notes that the word “kavod” means heavy or satisfied. It is a misguided attitude of not needing others, of being disinterested, and of not affording proper respect to others.

Rashi in Bamidbar points out that Bilaam’s donkey died so that he would not be a source of shame to him, because the donkey witnessed what Bilaam did not. If hashem was careful not to shame Bilaam, who was a murderer and a rasha, how much more so should we be careful not to humiliate a fellow Jew. The Alter of Slabodka explains that people cannot live without kavod. Suicide is a result of feeling bereft of chashivut. Affording someone respect is giving him life. Rav Chaim Volozhner writes in Ruach Chaim that the way to give someone kavod is not to denigrate the person or view him as inferior. Everyone has a tzelem Elokim and has the potential to become like Hashem. We were all created by one craftsman. Our work is to identify the artist’s signature in each person. This involves looking for the good and not concentrating on the negative character traits of others.

Rav Yisrael Salanter notes that the real test is not respecting someone who is a gadol but someone who tries your patience and endurance. Respecting one’s family is much harder than respecting strangers. He would teach, “Worry about the gashmiut of others and your own ruchniut.” Before his students went to bake matzot for Pesach, they asked him what stringencies they should take upon themselves. He answered that they should take care not to raise their voices because the proprietress of the bakery was a widow and it could cause her anguish.

Rav Yisrael Yaakov Lubchansky was the Rav and Mashgiach in Baranovich. During World War II, when the Jews of Baranovich were confined to a ghetto, he would walk the streets with a smile on his face. When questioned, he answered that he had nothing to give others, not even a piece of bread, at least he could try and give them his smile.” Aside from what a moody person does to his surroundings, he makes people think that they are in some way responsible for the person’s sadness. When Rav Yisrael Salanter encountered one of his students with a long face before Yom Kippur he admonished him that his face was a reshut harabbim and he had no right to make others feel gloomy.

Many people maintain one lashon-hara free hour every day. As we count down the weeks to Matan Torah, let us work on our own tikun hamiddot by setting aside one hour every day to work on kavod habriut. Showing respect to the security guard, the janitor, the parking lot attendant, or the plumber are all little acts of great significance that can have help us reach our goal of perfecting our middot as we prepare for Kabbalat HaTorah.



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