Monday, January 31, 2011


The Torah states regarding the walls of the Mishkan: “The center crossbar shall go through the middle of the beams, from one end to the other. ” The Targum Yonasan writes that the center crossbar was made with wood that came from the trees that Avraham Avinu planted for the purpose of doing chesed for the travelers. Why was this wood in particular used to take such a prominent position in the Mishkan? Rav Zelig Pliskin Shlita explains that it is to remind us that even whilst we are devoting ourselves to Hashem, we should never forget to have compassion for our fellow man, who is created in G-d’s image .

This lesson is stressed in the teachings by the Baalei Mussar: One of the great contributions of Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l was that whilst it is highly commendable to place great care on dikduk hamitzvos in the realm of Bein Odom leMakom nevertheless we should be very careful that this should not be at the expense of others. There are numerous examples of how he put this teaching into practice. On his way to get water for netilas yedayim, a talmid passed through some rooms in which people were sleeping. “Netilas yadayim is a mitvo instituted by our Sages,” commented, R’Yisroel, “but robbing others of their sleep is forbidden by the Torah. ” On another occasion a talmid began davenning a spirited Shemoneh Esrei whilst standing by the open window on a hot day. R’Yisroel scolded him for blocking the air for the other people in shul. Another of the great Baalei Mussar, the Alter of Slobodka, also placed great emphasis on mitzvos’ bein odom le chaveiro. He taught that, in doing a mitzvo, we must be very careful not to cause unpleasantness or harm to anyone to avoid forfeiting its rewards. He never gave shmusen during mealtimes and when he prayed with a minyan, either he finished the Shemoneh Esrei with everyone, or he knocked on his shtender to indicate that the congregation should not wait for him .

On one occasion one talmid standing in prayer among the others was fervently shaking in every direction with his whole body. After the tefillo, the Alter called the talmid over and said to him, “A person who hits another, even without inflicting damage, is called a ‘rasha’ and is punishable by malkus. Now when you shake you are liable to bump into our neighbor who is standing beside you, and thereby commit - in the midst of your fervent tefillos - a serious transgression for which you will be called a ‘rasha’ !

We may never daven in such a way but there are situations where we may unwittingly cause pain or inconvenience to others amidst our Avodas Hashem: For example, it is not uncommon for a person in shul for Shacharis to suddenly be struck by the flying tallis strings of someone who is donning his tallis - this is a classic example of how we must maintain our awareness of others during our own Avoda. Another case is when the Sefer Torah is brought out. It is certainly praiseworthy to kiss it, however, if one is likely to push or shove others on the way then the poskim write that the hidur of kissing the sefer Torah is over-ridden by the requirement not to risk harming our fellow Jew . Another common example of this is that a person who davens a long Shemoneh Esrei can cause a considerable amount of inconvenience to the person standing in front of him. The poskim say that it is recommended for a slow davenner to pray in a place where there are no passers-by .

Another aspect in which bein adam lechaveiro can sometimes take second place behind bein adam leMakom is in the areas of chumros. There is a well-known Ramban on the passuk of “be holy” where the Rambam tells us that it is not enough to keep the ikar hadin in terms of our Avodas Hashem, rather we should strive to reach ever higher levels in our relationship with Hashem. There is a less well-known Ramban that makes a similar point with regard to bein adam le chaveiro. The Torah says, “And you should do what is fair and good in the eyes of Hashem..” Chazal say that this passuk teaches us that we should go beyond the letter of the law in our dealings with other people. The Ramban explains that it is not enough to simply keep the ikar hadin of mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro, rather we must realize that Hashem wants us to treat people with a heightened sensitivity to their needs.

A person may have a tendency to emphasize chumros in mitzvos of bein adam leMakom such as kashrus. The Imrei Emes understood that the concept of ‘hiddur mitzvo’ applies just as much to our dealings with other people as to out relationship with Hashem. A chassid once asked him if he could borrow a pair of tefillin since he had misplaced his own. The Rebbe lent him a pair, but not just any pair. It was his own set of tefillin, which had belonged to his father, the Sfas Emes. When asked why he gave the chassid his most precious set, he answered that, “the passuk says, ‘Zeh Keili v’anveihu’ from which we learn that one must do a mitzvo in the most beautiful way possible. This concept applies to chesed as well. That is why I gave him the priceless tefillin. ” The center crossbar in the Mishkan stood as an eternal reminder that there are two pillars of Avodas Hashem - bein adam le Makom and bein adam lechaveiro, and even at times of the highest devotion to Hashem it is essential to remember our obligations to our fellow man. May we all be zocheh to strike the right balance.

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