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Torah Attitude: Parashas Metzora: Let us show that we care
There are many opportunities in our daily lives to feel for others and share their experiences. When someone gives a present to his fellow being, he should make sure that the recipient is aware of it. We should emulate the conduct of G'd. It is more important to smile at a pauper than to actually give him a donation. Just as G'd visits the sick, so must we visit the sick. Just like G'd comforts the mourners, so must we comfort the mourners. Just like G'd buries the dead, so must we bury the deceased. We should be careful to speak to people in an appropriate way and with the right choice of words. "Bring happiness to the beloved friends [the groom and bride] as You made happy the ones that You created in the Garden of Eden." When we go to a wedding, we are expected to show our happiness for the groom and bride and rejoice in their celebration with them. It seems strange when the Talmud teaches that for making the groom happy one will be rewarded with Torah.
Many opportunities to feel for others
In the last Torah Attitude we discussed the importance of sharing both in the pain and in the happiness of our fellow beings. We mentioned a few examples of how different people conducted themselves in a way that showed how they felt the plight of others. There are many opportunities in our daily lives to feel for others and share their experiences. However, just like we mentioned that G'd showed the Jewish people how He had shared their pain during their bondage in Egypt, and rejoiced with them at the time of the exodus, in the same way we must train ourselves not only to feel for others, but also to let them know that we join them in experiences. This applies both at difficult and joyous times. By doing so, we make the other person feel a lot better and at the same time we are emulating the ways of G'd.
Make aware of presents
The Talmud (Shabbos 10b) teaches that when someone gives a present to another person, he should make sure that the recipient is aware of it. Rashi explains that in this way it will enhance their friendship. Tosaphoth points out that this refers specifically to a gift. For when it comes to charity the preferred way is to remain anonymous, so as not to embarrass the recipient. The Talmud relates that this is how G'd conducted Himself at Mount Sinai when He said to Moses, "I have a special gift in My treasure house. It's called 'Shabbos' and I want to give it to the Jewish people. Go and let them know." If one gives a present anonymously it definitely will be beneficial to the recipient but it becomes much more valuable, when the recipient is made aware that he has a friend who cares about him and wants to build up a relationship with him. The same principle applies whenever we do something for others or just feel for them.
In Parashas Re'eh, the Torah (Devarim 13:5) instructs us, "You shall follow after HASHEM your G'd." The Talmud (Sotah 14a) explains that this means that we should emulate the conduct of G'd (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeira: Treating strangers with lovingkindness, November 9, 2006). Says the Talmud: "Just like G'd dresses the naked, so must you dress the naked. As it says (Bereishis 3:21): 'And HASHEM, G'd, made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and He dressed them.'" This is just one example of the many kinds of charity that we must involve ourselves with. We live in a time when, on the one hand, there is tremendous affluence. But at the same time there is no shortage of needy people who require food, clothing and housing, as well as medical assistance. It is not sufficient that we feel bad for these people, and verbally express our concern for them. We must get involved and do whatever we can to help them. On the other hand, if we just give a donation to an organization who deals with these situations, or to the one collecting charity who knocks on our door, we have not yet fully shown how we share in their plight.
The Talmud (Ketuboth 111b) teaches that it is more important to smile at a pauper than to actually give him a donation (see Torah Attitude Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayechi: Keep smiling, January 4, 2007). It can sometimes be challenging when we are inundated with requests for charity, whether in the synagogue, or at our homes and offices. But if we look at it as an opportunity to share in the burden of our fellow beings, it may be easier for us to let the collector come in and sit down and spend a few minutes with him and make him feel as a worthy member of humanity.
Visit the sick
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) continues: "Just as G'd visits the sick, so must you visit the sick. As it says (Bereishis 18:1), 'And G'd appeared to him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre.'" Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Bava Metzia 86b) that this "visit" took place on the third day after Abraham had circumcised himself, when G'd came to see how he was doing. This is another opportunity to show how we care about a fellow being who is in a difficult situation. There are many detailed laws in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah Chapter 335) how to conduct oneself when one visits a person who is not well. Besides inquiring as to the health of the person, one should also see if he requires assistance in any area. It is also proper to say a small prayer for the person who is not well for his speedy recovery. Although such a prayer can be said at any place, it is more heart-felt when the prayer is said when one sees the person who is suffering. We must also be sensitive to the situation so that our visit does not become more of a burden than a benefit for the person who is not well. Often the patient is not able to engage in long conversations and we should always keep in mind that the main purpose of our visit is to show how much we care about the patient.
Comfort the mourners
The Talmud (Sotah 14a) further says: "Just like G'd comforts the mourners, so must you comfort the mourners. As it says (Bereishis 25:11): 'And it was after the death of Abraham, and G'd blessed Isaac, his son'". Here again it takes sensitivity and common sense to know how to conduct oneself in a shivah house. The halacha requires that the visitor does not start a conversation but respectfully waits until the mourner is ready to talk (see Yoreh De'ah 376:7). The purpose is not to distract the mourner from his situation, but rather to give him an opportunity to share his feelings and speak about the deceased. Every situation is different and every visitor must evaluate, according to how close he is to the mourners, how long it is appropriate to stay at the shivah house. It is also important to remember that after the shivah the family, who has lost a loved one, is still in mourning. Sometimes it can be even more important to drop by or pick up the phone after the week of shivah to show that we share the pain of the ones left behind and care about them.
Escort the deceased
The Talmud concludes: "Just like G'd buries the dead, so must you bury the deceased. As it says (Devarim 34:5-6): 'And Moses, servant of G'd, died there in the land of Moab and He buried him'". When we attend a funeral and escort the deceased to his final resting place, we are both giving honour to the one who passed away, and showing the family that we share in their pain.
Appropriate way and right words
In all these situations it is important to be cautious first of all what one says, and even more how one says it. When G'd revealed Himself for the first time to Moses at the burning bush, the Midrash Rabbah (Shemos 3:1) relates how G'd was concerned how to address Moses. Since Moses had never had a prophetic vision previously, G'd said, "If I reveal Myself in a loud voice, I will frighten him. If I reveal Myself in a low voice, he will not realize it is a prophecy." G'd decided to reveal Himself with the voice of Moses' father. Moses responded, "Yes, what does father want?" G'd said to him, "I am not your father. I am the G'd of your father and I revealed Myself to you in this way so that you should not be scared." This teaches us the extent to which we should be careful to speak to people in an appropriate way and with the right choice of words. This is especially important when we deal with people who are going through difficult times, such as unmarried individuals and childless couples. Often well-meaning people make silly comments or give unsolicited advice not realizing how much pain they cause with their words. On the other hand, with the right words, we can soothe and heal many a wound, and give encouragement when needed.
Bring happiness to the beloved friends
When we join in a happy occasion, such as a wedding or another Simcha, we must also strive to emulate G'd and follow in His ways. In one of the blessings said under the chuppah, and throughout the seven days of celebration for the newly married couple, we pray to G'd and say, "Bring happiness to the beloved friends [the groom and bride] as You made happy the ones that You created in the Garden of Eden." Obviously, there were no people around at the wedding of Adam and Eve, and G'd had to act as the wedding party for both sides (see Berachos 61a and Bereishis Rabbah 18:1). The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 8:13) relates how G'd blessed the groom and beautified the bride at the wedding in the Garden of Eden. G'd did not need the honour of being at the wedding. He only participated to make sure that both groom and bride felt good and enjoyed their celebration.
Rejoice with the groom and bride
This should be our attitude, as well when we go to a wedding. The story is told of a certain person who had an acquaintance who was about to get married. About a month before the wedding, he made a comment to his wife that he found it strange that he had not been invited. As the wedding day grew closer, he became more and more agitated because he had not been invited. Finally, five days before the wedding, the invitation arrived, and he said to his wife, "Do I really have to go?" This person was obviously not looking to share in the celebration of his acquaintance. What was important to him was that he be considered close enough to be on the list of the wedding guests. The Talmud (Berachos 6b) says, "Whoever participates in a wedding meal, and does not see to make the groom happy, is a transgressor. But if he makes the groom happy then he will be rewarded with Torah." The Talmud here teaches us that when we go to a wedding we should not go just to enjoy ourselves and have a good meal. We are expected to show our happiness for the groom and bride and rejoice in their celebration together with them. If we do not, we are missing the whole point of having been invited to the wedding. But if we are truly happy for the couple, and share in their joy, then we are fulfilling the purpose of being there.
Rewarded with the Torah
However, it seems strange when the Talmud teaches that for making the groom happy one will be rewarded with Torah. But the reason is simple. For with this one fulfills a requirement needed to acquire Torah, as one shares with another person's situation. It is therefore most appropriate that he should be rewarded and enabled to acquire Torah. May we all rise to the opportunities given us and in this way follow in the footsteps of G'd and fulfill our obligations to our fellow beings.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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