CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
DERECH ERETZ COMES BEFORE
DERECH ERETZ IS DEFINED
BY YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
HASHEM DOES DERECH ERETZ
CHAZAL AND TORAH
MEFORSHIM (MAJOR COMMENTARIES) ON DERECH ERETZ
DERECH ERETZ IN
EVERY-DAY LIFE GOVERNS WHAT TO DO
DERECH ERETZ IN EVERY-DAY
LIFE GOVERNS WHAT NOT TO DO
DERECH ERETZ IN HALACHA
DERECH ERETZ IN SHUL
DERECH ERETZ IN
PROPERTY MATTERS (BUSINESS AND PREVENTING DAMAGE)
DERECH ERETZ IN
THE MORE YOU PRACTICE THE
MORE YOU'LL BE A MASTER OF DERECH ERETZ
DERECH ERETZ COMES BEFORE
Having sterling midos (character traits)
and the ability to behave like a mentsh (fine human being) are fundamental to living the
Torah. The way one behaves is an external manifestation of one's midos. Therefore, a
behavioral corollary to good character is "derech eretz:" decent, polite,
respectful, thoughtful and civilized behavior.
The Jew is a force for the good of other
people, never for any form of hurt or damage. Character doesn't pass the test unless
behavior does. The external manifestation of midos is most clearly seen in behavior. The
greatest impact on others of midos arises out of behavior. The paragon of Jewish behavior
is "derech eretz."
Rabbi Dessler [Michtav Mi'Eliyahu, vol. 4]
writes about the central principle of derech eretz. The third chapter of Pirkei Avos says
that if one doesn't behave with derech eretz, one doesn't have Torah (im ain derech eretz
ain Torah). He quotes Rabainu Yonah (12th century) who wrote, based on this, that G-d's
presence cannot rest upon any person who does not have good midos (even a person with lots
of Torah learning).
There are about 200 teachings from our
sages about derech eretz in the Talmud and midrashim, as well as two tractates on derech
eretz and many more teachings from the post-Talmudic authorities. All that a brief section
here can hope to do is to fine-tune, upgrade and sensitize, so that you will work on
derech eretz from now on. By practicing, it will come more spontaneously and voluntarily.
This will improve all of your relationships in general and your marriage in particular.
The midrash (Vayikra Raba) says,
"Derech eretz comes before Torah." At presentations I ask people, "If
'derech eretz comes before Torah,' if a person behaves without derech eretz, what is that
person's Torah?" Hopefully, this gets people thinking. One does not personify Torah
until he demonstrates derech eretz in everything he does. Without prerequisite derech
eretz, you don't have Torah. When your behavior is up to the standard required by derech
eretz, you are a vessel for and "good-will ambassador" for the Torah.
DERECH ERETZ IS DEFINED
BY YOUR IMPACT ON OTHERS
Pela Yoetz writes that when a person has
derech eretz, he cancels his will for other people, people find him to be sweet, he makes
a point to steadily learn about derech eretz, honors people in ways that do them good and
he never hurts people; and any Torah scholar who does not have derech eretz is a chillul
Hashem (profanation of G-d). I tell people that a meaning of "derech eretz comes
before Torah" is: if you make kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem) by treating
people with derech eretz, this could bring them to Torah. Your derech eretz can come
before THEIR Torah.
Pirkei Avos (chapter three) tells us that
"all who are pleasing to one's fellow man are pleasing to Hashem and all who are not
pleasing to one's fellow man are displeasing to Hashem." The Torah's "ways are
sweet and all of its paths are peace" (Mishlai 3:17 - to be a Torah person, one must
be sweet and peaceful). Pirkei Avos teaches us to always give people a kindly and pleasant
countenance (chapter one) and to always receive people cheerfully (chapter three). Get
into the habit of treating everyone in a pleasant and friendly manner always. Be sociable
and healthily involved in the life of your community. When a poor person asks you for
charity, respond with warmth and a smile. If you can't give, say IN A NICE MANNER that
you're not in a position to give. The Chafetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed) says that even if you
can't give a penny, a warm, friendly, comforting or encouraging response to the poor
person can be a kindness, and, therefore, is a mitzva. Greet neighbors on the street. Ask
people, with sincere interest, how things are. You'll start to see your attitudes - and
relationships - improve.
When Hashem told Moshe to leave Yisro and
go to Egypt to save the Jewish people, Moshe first went to Yisro to ask permission to
leave to go to Egypt (Exodus 4:18). DERECH ERETZ FOR A PRIEST TO IDOLATRY CAME BEFORE A
COMMAND DIRECTLY FROM HASHEM!
HASHEM DOES DERECH ERETZ
"And G-d said, 'Let US make man.'
(Genesis 1:26)." Beraishis Raba deals with the obvious question of who is the
"us." We know that G-d alone made man. The midrash even tells us that when G-d
instructed Moshe to write "us," that Moshe asked, "Master of the Universe,
will this word 'us' not give those who will choose to believe that there is more than one
G-d a basis to believe in more than the One G-d?"
G-d replied, "Let those err who choose
to err. I asked the angels before I created man to show them DERECH ERETZ. It is more
important that My Torah teach derech eretz than to preclude the possibility of this
mistaken interpretation. The angels agreed to My creation of man. So, write 'us' as I
instructed you. Let those err who choose to err, and let those learn derech eretz who
choose to learn derech eretz."
G-d behaved with Derech Eretz. G-d gave
consideration to the angels. We see from this midrash how important it is to consider the
feelings of anyone effected by an action that you will do. Think into the effect on the
other(s) IN ADVANCE. Ask IN ADVANCE how they will feel about it, ask nicely and be
responsive IN ACTION to the impact your course of action will have on the other - whether
your spouse, child or anyone else.
The world existed for 26 generations (from
Adam to Sinai), before there was Torah. The world could not exist one moment without
derech eretz. It came before Torah. It started with Hashem Himself with the Creation of
Hashem told Avraham that He would give him
much reward. Avraham asked, "What can You give me when I am childless (Genesis
15:2)?" Hashem replied that Avraham's descendants will be as numerous, saying,
"Please look at the heavens and count the stars if you can, this is how many your
descendants will be (Genesis 15:5)." Note that Hashem said to Avraham,
"Please." G-d is infinite, higher than highest and greater than the greatest.
Yet, we see that even Hashem has derech eretz and is polite with a mortal human. We learn
from this that even the greatest person must have manners and behave with derech eretz and
courtesy to those considered more ordinary than him or her.
Because the Torah says "And you will
go in G-d's ways (Viholachta bidrochov, Devarim 28:9)," it is a Torah commandment to
behave with derech eretz at all times and under all circumstances.
CHAZAL AND TORAH MEFORSHIM
(MAJOR COMMENTARIES) ON DERECH ERETZ
There is no wisdom like the wisdom of
derech eretz (Avos DeRebi Noson 28). Think of all of your actions in [terms of] derech
eretz (Derech Eretz Zuta 2). Any one who is a master of derech eretz, and is not learned
enough to know more than Bible, so long as he guards against sin - eternal reward is
prepared for him (Tanna Debay Eliyahu Raba 2). Four things require constant work: Torah
learning, good deeds, prayer and derech eretz (Brachos 32b).
If a person speaks to you, or asks you a
question, respond promptly, respectfully and so as to be "on the point" (Pirkei
Avos chapter five). Any time you want to speak to another, never say to him, "I want
you to speak with me;" rather, draw him with what he wants and speak with him (Sifri
If you are with people who are crying or
rejoicing, do the same and not the opposite; if you are among people who are sleeping or
awake, do the same and not the opposite; if the congregation stands or sits, do the same
and not the opposite; the general principle is: do not be different from your companions
or community (Tractate Derech Eretz Raba, chapter seven).
"VaYelech Moshe (and Moshe went"
- Deuteronomy 31:1). Just before Moshe was about to die, he "went" to speak
final words to the Jewish people. Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah, points out that
the word "went" is extraneous, and therefore provides an extra lesson. Remember
that Moshe had been the compassionate leader of the Jewish people for forty years. He had
been a faithful, devoted "shepherd" to his "flock." If Moshe were only
saying "goodbye," the Torah did not have to add the word "went." What
Moshe did was to go around to all of the thousands of families to say goodbye to each and
every person. When you are taking leave of someone, you don't just disappear. You say
"goodbye" like a mentch. And that is what Moshe did. He went to say
"goodbye" to each and every Jew, like a mentch. He "went" to do derech
I'll add that if this is derech eretz when
one is just about to leave this world, kal vichomer (how much moreso) must we show derech
eretz to people who we are still in a relationship with, when we still have time, when
there is still more relationship to come! We are obligated in derech eretz all the way
Avraham's servant, Eliezer, came to Aram
Naharayim for Yitzchok's wife. He had just arrived at the outskirts of town after crossing
the hot desert. Just then, kindhearted Rivka came out to fetch water for her family at the
town well at the edge of the desert. When Eliezer asked Rivka for water, she offered a
drink to the apparently thirsty traveller. Then, of her own initiative, she offered to
give water to drink to all the camels in his caravan (Genesis 24:14). Siforno writes on
this that it is proper for one who asks something of another to ask for less than he
actually needs, in order not to trouble the other person. And, it is proper for the giver
to add and to actively do more (i.e. to be more benevolent and giving) on behalf of the
requesting person, enough for all of his needs, or even more.
DERECH ERETZ IN EVERY-DAY
LIFE GOVERNS WHAT TO DO
Derech eretz must be concretely and
sensitively practiced constantly in every day situations. A person of more prominence
should not see as bad being a friend to a person of less prominence (Brachos 61a). If you
have a choice between a. doing a mitzva that entails hurting another or violating someone
else's rights, and b. missing the mitzva, miss (or delay) the mitzva (Shulchan Oruch,
Orech Chaim 1:1, Mishna Brura 2) because this would violate derech eretz (Hilchos Derech
Eretz chapters 1 and 2). For practical instruction or questions, contact your orthodox
rabbi. There are countless ways that you can practice derech eretz in everyday life.
In general, be friendly, warm, pleasant,
thoughtful, respectful and cheerful to people. Smile at people. Say hello to your
neighbors. When you meet people (or pick up the phone), make people feel important and
like you are very happy to know them. Four months before this writing, I phoned someone.
After I greeted him, he answered with such a warm, enthusiastic and friendly, "Shalom
Alaichem," that I still truly feel it in my heart four months later.
Make a rule to return phone messages (or
e-mail) the same day or no later than the beginning of the next day, even if you don't
judge it to be important. Don't judge other people. If the person didn't want a timely
response, he would have written you a letter and sent it through the mail!
Hold the door for people coming into a
building behind you (even if you have to wait because they are walking 20 feet behind
you). This is especially important if someone behind you is carrying something, or weak.
Wait the moment and hold the door open for the person. I live in a building which has
about three dozen apartments. Most of the families here are observant Jews. In the twelve
years that I have been living here, I have made a consistent point to hold the door when I
see any neighbor - young or old - coming. It caught on (although, I must admit, it took
time). About three quarters of the residents of this building now hold the door for each
other - and most do so with a smile! This pleases me very much - particularly since the
midrash says that when A holds a door for B, B owes MORE KAVOD to A than to B's parents.
I'm not glorying in kavod. I'm pleased because the midrash measures how much kavod and
derech eretz I've built into the life of this primarily frum building, which wasn't here
Be a part of society. Share in people's
happiness, and comfort them in times of unhappiness.
Follow Shammai's rule (Pirkei Avos, chapter
one), "Say little and do much." Do many good deeds and treat people generously
throughout life. Don't speak about it nor seek praise. Leave it to Heaven to praise you.
And then there are always the polite, sincere expressions of "please," thank
you," "you're welcome," "good morning," "excuse me,"
and "I'm sorry." Some people make the mistake of thinking these are corny or
unnecessary. Whenever it comes to derech eretz, to midos or to Jewish law, let people
think you're silly while G-d thinks you're beautiful. Besides, some people are going to
notice. When they are Jews, you will be a Torah role model and a kiddush Hashem; and when
they are non-Jews, you will be an ambassador of peace.
King Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 7:1) that
"A good reputation is better than good oil." A good reputation is acquired with
diligent effort and good deeds (Siforno). It is more valuable than precious oils (Rashi)
which, in Biblical times, was a preservative that kept dead bodies from decay. A good
reputation will preserve the dead better than the oils will (Alshich) and is one of the
only things that one takes on to his din vicheshbon (Heavenly judgement) and eternal life
(Tractate Derech Eretz). It is therefore recommended that you work to acquire a good
reputation. Since derech eretz comes before Torah, even if you are not a scholar, build a
reputation as a baal derech eretz (master of meritorious behavior). Be known as a
reliable, thoughtful, kind, polite, pleasant, decent, active, fine, honest and goodhearted
human being; and as a representative of what Torah stands for in practical life. Don't be
motivated by ego, approval or quest for honor. Work on yourself to be the best Jew you can
be. Work to grow, to be closer and closer to G-d, and to be a good force for the community
and people around you.
Do and say things that make other people
feel that they are important and that you are sweet. And, you really "hit the
bulls-eye" if you also make people spontaneously recognize G-d and His Torah through
DERECH ERETZ IN EVERY-DAY
LIFE GOVERNS WHAT NOT TO DO
Don't do or say thoughtless things which,
as if by design, necessarily will hurt the feelings or health of another person. I
witnessed some examples. Person A has a friend, Person B, who suffered a leg injury, as a
result of which B limps. Mr. A went for a walk one chol hamoed (the intermediate days of a
holiday). Near the home of his friend, he met B on the street. B cheerfully went over to
greet his friend. A mentioned that he was taking a long, refreshing walk. B's face
suddenly turned sad and he said, "I wish I could take a long walk."
Mrs. C, in her late thirties, has a friend,
D, of about the same age, who has never been married. In observant circles, late thirties
is considered to be an "old" age in which to still be single. Wanting to be nice
to her single friend, C invited D for shabos so that she needn't feel lonely. At one point
over shabos, Mrs. C exclaimed that it was such a joy to have five children. D's feelings
felt very hurt. Not having found her mate and having no children was painful enough,
without having to feel such a "stab."
Mr. E sneezed. Being on the street and not
having any tissue, he sneezed into the palm of his right hand. A few minutes later, he ran
into Mr. F, a former neighbor. They greeted each other warmly and they shook hands. Mr. E
had not cleaned his hand between the time he sneezed into it and the time he shook his
friend's hand with it.
Don't go into someone's house and say
"feed me" (Derech Eretz Raba 8) and don't let someone come into your house
without your offering food and drink to him (Shir HaShirim Raba 2). Do what your host says
(as long as it violates no Torah - Pesachim 86b). A guest should not invite another guest
and one should not answer before hearing the question (Bava Basra 98b).
Don't keep people waiting. The time you
cost them is irreplaceable, and you are accountable in Heaven for having stolen all that
time. Since part of a thief's obligation in judgement requires paying back of anything
stolen, having stolen the irreplaceable means punishment has to be more brutal. If you're
ever running late due to something beyond your control, and someone is waiting for you,
give derech eretz by phoning the person. Let the person know what's happening and how long
you estimate you'll be delayed. Consider the other person. In his or her mind, you're
simply not where you're supposed to be. If the person is depending on you or would be
worried, your not phoning can cause inconvenience or hurt. Sensitize yourself to the way
your behavior can impact upon other people in all things. If the person waiting is in a
place where you cannot call, do everything in your power to be on time. As much as
possible, look to not be an imposition on anyone else (Pela Yo'etz, section on Derech
If you are driving your car in a
residential neighborhood, refrain from blowing the horn except in emergency (the noise
disturbs neighbors). If you have to stop your car to let someone in or out, pull over
enough to the side so that you don't block traffic - I've repeatedly seen people stop in
the middle, as if no one else is on the street. Needless to say that while you are
driving, DIScourtesy can be DISastrous.
When a Persian pushed Rabbi Elazar, a snake
bit the Persian as punishment (Brachos 62b). Pushing is unacceptable behavior. If you are
in a crowd and people are pushing, that doesn't mean that you have to push. Another
person's low standards NEVER justify compromising your G-dly standards. Don't stand in a
place that blocks other people from going by. In all things, think into how you can be
respectful of and sensitive to other people.
DERECH ERETZ IN HALACHA
If you are washing "netilas
yadayim" for a meal, and there is a line of people waiting behind you at the sink,
after pouring your water on your hands, place the cup under the running faucet so that in
the time that you are stepping away, the cup will fill for the next person. This will not
only extend courtesy, it will cut waiting time for all the people on the line (especially
if each person on the line does this).
Loving another Jew, a most central
principal in the Torah; and derech eretz, which comes before Torah; require that you not
impose your chumra (particular religious custom or stringencies) on another observant Jew.
If the other person is a G-d fearing, observant Jew who lives by Jewish law, then his
observance satisfies the requirements of the law. If you have accepted any customs or
stringencies upon yourself which go beyond the law, practice them in private and never at
the expense of the other. If you are a guest in a house which is reliably kosher but which
does not practice your stringencies, you should eat the food, unless your posaik
determined for you that the food is traif, according to your minhag.
For example, some people keep cholov
Yisroel (they only use rabbinically supervised milk and milk products). For some of them,
this is a stringency. For some, cholov Yisroel is a requirement, and their rabbis
determine that non-supervised milk must be presumed to be altogether unkosher. Therefore,
for some people, consuming non-cholov Yisroel product could be an option in a case of
necessity. For other people, it has to be treated as non-kosher and it is not an option.
"Gebrukts" or "kitneeyos" on Passover is another example (i.e. for
some people, they are never an option, and a host would have to respect his guests
If you are a guest on shabos, refusing the
food will not only hurt and insult the host unnecessarily. It will degrade shabos and risk
a quarrel, Heaven forbid. Whenever a religious stringency leads to fighting or to the
abuse of another commandment, suspect that the Torah may not want the stringency just
then. Ask a shaalo of an authoritative rabbi.
On Friday night, it is customary to sing
"Sholom Alaichem" before making kidush. Whenever the Chofetz Chayim would have a
guest for shabos, he would make kiddush immediately upon returning home from shul. When
asked why he skipped singing "Sholom Alaichem," he replied that the song greets
malachim, who aren't hungry and who can wait. The guest, who is flesh and blood, is hungry
and should not have to wait to eat.
A certain chassidic rabbi who I know has
the custom of not making kiddush on Friday nights between 6 and 7 p.m., for a reason which
he explains is mystical. However, when he has a guest, since the guest does not generally
share this custom, since pleasing and honoring a guest is a huge mitzva and because the
guest is probably hungry, he makes kiddush immediately upon returning from shul in the
conventional fashion, whenever he has guests.
A kosher pizza store opened up in a certain
rabbi's neighborhood. The rabbi used to eat in the store rather frequently. The store
lowered its koshruss standards and the store was no longer acceptable to this rabbi,
although many observant people continued to consider the restaurant satisfactorily kosher.
For the next four or five years, the rabbi never went into the store again.
On a couple of occasions, a certain
wheel-chair bound man came into a neighborhood shul to pray, where the rabbi saw him from
time to time. He must have lived somewhere else and only was in the area on rare occasion.
From the quality of his praying, the wheel-chair bound man was clearly observant. One day
the rabbi was walking down the street. Just as he passed by the pizza store, a voice
called out to the rabbi, asking him to stop. The wheel-chair bound man was sitting in a
car parked in front of the pizza shop, and he called the rabbi over. "Please go into
the pizza shop and get me some food. I'm wheel-chair bound. Here's money."
The rabbi would not think of patronizing
the restaurant for himself, but he went immediately in, without any delay nor comment
about its level of koshruss. The man needed to eat. Observant people patronize the
restaurant. He put aside his personal standards and bought the food for the visitor, who
expressed extreme appreciation when the rabbi returned to the car with the man's lunch.
This was chesed (kindness), derech eretz (good manners) and having proper priorities in
It is a very great honor to be a sandak,
the one chosen to hold a baby on his lap during the boy's bris (circumcision). At the time
of the bris, the child receives his neshama (soul). The quality of the intentions, prayers
and personal righteousness of those with significant roles in his circumcision has
significant effect on the quality of the soul and personality of that baby. Therefore, the
honor of sandak is reserved for a very learned and righteous person.
A certain rabbi's married son had a baby
boy. A certain unlearned relative insisted on having the honor of being sandak at the
bris. The rabbi wanted to insist firmly that the honor be reserved for a tzadik who was in
the vicinity. A rov poskined to let the unlearned relative have the honor because doing so
would preserve peace.
To give a bit of perspective to the idea of
"chumros (religious stringencies)" and derech eretz, there is a pertinent maaseh
(occurrence) in the life of Rabbi Shimon Schwab, z'l, former head of the German-Jewish
community in Washington Heights, New York. There is a Torah prohibition of eating certain
grain, and some authorities maintain this applies to us here and now and many authorities
do not. Some people in recent times have adopted a chumra of "yoshon," eating
grains which satisfy this chumra.
Towards the end of his life, when Rabbi
Schwab was elderly, he was confined to a wheelchair, so he didn't get "out into the
world" too often. He asked a visitor what was going on of late in the Jewish World.
He was told that the "newest chumra" was yoshon. Rabbi Schwab replied with
surprise, "What about the old basics like derech eretz?"
DERECH ERETZ IN SHUL
One of the rabbis from whom I learn Torah
is Rabbi Avraham Asher Zimmerman, a posaik (decider of Jewish law) and Talmid Chacham
(accomplished scholar). There are parts of the prayer services during which it is strictly
prohibited in Jewish law to speak. Rabbi Zimmerman told me that even during parts of the
prayer services during which it is not strictly forbidden to speak, one should not speak.
He said that derech eretz requires that one not disturb anyone else in the shul by
speaking at any time during the services. During prayer, one may not say Shmoneh Esray
(the silent prayer) with one's voice because your voice will bother other people (Orech
Chayim, Hilchos T'fillah 101:2) - not even with a low voice (Mishna Brura 10).
It is forbidden to walk within four amos
(approximately eight feet) in front of one who is praying Shmoneh Esray (Orech Chayim,
Hilchos T'fillah 102:4). One of the reasons is that this undoes the concentration of the
one praying (Mishna Brurah 15). Don't hang your tallis in a way in which it can yank
someone's property to the floor. In one morning alone I saw one young man in shul with his
jacket dangling (because his tefillin was on his arm). He walked by one desk and the
hanging garment pulled someone's tefillin bag off onto the floor, and when he got to the
desk in front of it, the hanging coat pulled a pushka (charity box) onto the floor. At the
same minyan I saw someone walk by the first desk and his dangling tallis pulled a siddur
off. When you put on tzitzis in shul, make sure you are far enough away from the next
fellow so that, while putting them on, you don't whip him in the face with the strings
(I've seen all of these occur in shuls dozens of times).
A certain rabbi customarily prayed a long
"Shmoneh Esray" (the standing silent prayer), taking 20 or 30 minutes, in
contrast with the more usual 3 - 5 minutes. He took his prayer very seriously. One time he
prayed mincha (afternoon prayer) in a kollel (yeshiva specifically for married men) and,
on that afternoon, there were exactly ten men (a minyon - quorum - the minimum necessary
for the service) present. One of the worshippers had an important appointment. Immediately
before the service started, the visiting rabbi happened to have heard him say that he
would have to leave the moment prayer was over. This meant that if he were to pray his
customarily long Shmoneh Esray, he could possibly cause the service to take longer than
the usual time, inconveniencing the person who was in a hurry. He prayed the same Shmoneh
Esray, at the more common speed, taking just as long as the rest of the minyon, out of
consideration for the person in a hurry. After the service ended, I overheard the Rosh
Kollel (who knew this rabbi, and who knew that he normally takes much, much longer than
usual to pray Shmoneh Esray) say, "Till now I knew that you are a Talmid Chochom. Now
I know that you are a Talmid Chochom AND A MENTSH."
About two years later, I witnessed another
event with this same rabbi. He often prayed weekday shachris (morning prayers) in a shul
which has 5 or 6 minyons (scheduled services), spanning about four hours from dawn and on.
This rabbi came to one of the minyons with some regularity, generally not coming to any of
the minyons at other times. A person should adopt a "makom kevua (regular
place)" in shul and steadily pray there. The rabbi found a certain place which he
took for his makom kevua. The congregants for all 5 or 6 weekday minyons accumulate into
this shul for one morning service on shabos or holidays, so the place is packed with 5 or
6 times as many people for a shabos or holiday morning minyons than for any weekday
morning minyon. This rabbi once came to this shul on a holiday and, since he came early,
thought nothing of placing himself at his then empty makom kevua. His place was on a
pathway which lead to a row of seats along a wall. On weekdays, when the room was
relatively empty, this never blocked anyone. By the time that the holiday minyon got to
Shmoneh Esray, the shul was crowded like a rush hour subway car, lehavdil, and every seat
was occupied. If he would have prayed his long Shmoneh Esray, he would have blocked the
coming and going of anyone who might have needed to go by in the jam-packed shul. Again,
he prayed Shmoneh Esray of the conventional length, without "missing a beat,"
and without inconveniencing any other person.
DERECH ERETZ IN PROPERTY
MATTERS (BUSINESS AND PREVENTING DAMAGE)
If you own property and decide to sell it,
you must first offer it to your bordering neighbor, even if he is not a learned or
esteemed person. All other things being equal, the fact that his property is attached
makes your property more meaningful to him because it expands his property, which is not
the case with others. In light of this benefit, you are obligated to give this preference
to your neighbor whose property borders yours, and offer your property for sale to him
first (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Metzranos, 175).
It is forbidden to harm the property or
monetary interests of another person, including prohibition of setting up a condition
which can cause any damage as a resulting consequence. This is regardless of whether or
not you gain from or enjoy the damage. You are obligated to pay for all such damage, even
if you caused it with no intent or if you were compelled by anything beyond your control
(Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Nizeekin 378). If, for example, you leave something where
someone can come to trip over it in a place where he has the right to go unimpeded, and he
is injured; or if you leave someone else's property on a raised surface and you failed to
guard it so that a sudden or unusual wind caused the property to fall down and break, you
are obligated to pay for all damages. The Jew is obligated to pay all financial
obligations on time, whether the payments pertain to damages, creditors, workers, loans,
contractual agreements, charity pledges, children's allowance etc. If you dig on your land
near your boundary with your neighbor, if your digging may cause damage to your neighbor,
you must dig far enough away from the boundary to forestall damage (e.g. digging a well
whose water could seep onto your neighbor's land). If you do anything on your property
that causes dust, smoke or noise, you have to consider the impact on your neighbors and
guard against bothering or damaging (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Nizkay Sh'chaynim 155-6). If
you are walking with an open umbrella, make sure you don't poke someone in the eye, or
knock a package out of his hand with it. If you are making a fire, you must contain the
fire a safe distance from your neighbor's property and guard against expectable wind that
could spread the fire. When you don't guard something which can be a cause of any damage,
that is called negligence, and negligence brings liability for damages. For all practical
questions, please consult your rabbi. Thinking into such laws will sensitize you to give
more consideration and derech eretz to people.
DERECH ERETZ IN MARRIAGE
Watch for opportunities to exemplify derech
eretz in your home with your spouse and your children. Watch how the quality of your
marriage goes up.
If your wife asks you to take out the
garbage or bring home a quart of milk, learn from this the first time that when the
garbage fills up or the milk runs low - anticipate her wishes and take the garbage out or
bring the milk in - yourself. Similarly, if your husband likes a coffee with breakfast or
likes his seforim (holy books) put back on the shelf in their proper place after the
children use them, don't wait to be asked to make sure that breakfast includes coffee the
way he likes it or to put his sefer back on its shelf after your little Yonk'l finishes
his chumash homework. Anticipate each other's feelings, needs and wishes in advance -
before they have to be mentioned.
When the other has a problem, be as
supportive, understanding and patient as you can. Stay cheerful, gracious and pleasant
except when you are genuinely burdened and your spouse can help or be supportive. There is
no gain expressing depression, trouble or tension where your spouse will only be made sad
and can't help in any way. Don't do things that will bother, irritate, ignore, disrespect
or pressure your spouse.
Always be polite and thoughtful; give
compliments and express appreciation. Hold the door for your wife (it is NO violation of
tzneeyus and it IS giving her derech eretz). If your wife feels that because of tzneeyus
she should walk behind you, then hold the door so that she walks behind your back. Tell
her that her clothes look nice. Tell your husband that some achievement of his makes you
proud of him.
If your spouse likes something, bring
presents of that kind home. One young man found out his new bride likes ice cream. She
came home to find a milk shake from the ice cream store in the refrigerator. One man's
wife made a passing remark that her shaitl (wig used to fulfill the law requiring that a
married woman cover her hair) was wearing out. Shortly thereafter, her husband came home
from her shaitlmacher ("wig lady") with a brand new shaitl as a surprise. An
engaged young man told his bride-to-be that he doesn't like the look of wigs. Out of
respect for his feelings, during her "bridal shopping," she acquired an array of
kerchiefs and hats (which would satisfy the law requiring that her hair be covered) so
that she would not need any wig.
The Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro
that he had a ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) that if the two of them went (from their
town of Tzfas) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said
that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back,
ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the
opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the "Father of the
Mussar Movement," said that we see from this that you cannot bring Moshiach if it
means doing so on the "cheshbon" of one's wife. It was more important that Rabbi
Kordevaro give derech eretz to his wife than bring Moshiach with the great Arizal!
Some people make the mistake of thinking
"derech eretz" altogether is corny or old-fashioned; or just for saints who want
"extra credit." Some people make the mistake of thinking derech eretz is fine in
public, but not with one's spouse nor children; or derech eretz is fine for wife and
children but not for strangers.
The thing which comes before the Torah is
not something to make any mistakes about. Not with anybody.
THE MORE YOU PRACTICE THE
MORE YOU'LL BE A MASTER OF DERECH ERETZ
The more that you practice derech eretz,
the more you will gradually change your disposition and conduct for the better. Others -
and you - will feel good about you! And, you will gradually get along better and better
with other people, and incline to friendships with nicer and nicer people! Your basis for
exchange in relationships will get onto nicer and nicer levels! This will upgrade your
marriage, especially if both partners
* "universally" practice derech
eretz in life,
* allow derech eretz to elevate each of
* practice derech eretz consistently with
Like anything else, that which you practice
you get progressively better and better at. It is vitally important to practice derech
eretz - to behave with consideration, courtesy and decency with people - so that you
refine and elevate at all times. Gradually, derech eretz should become a part of you; your
responses to people and life should spontaneously and constantly demonstrate derech eretz.
You will find derech eretz becoming more and more assimilated into each of you.
The more that you do derech eretz
* the more you will come to do even more
derech eretz and
* the more you will increase the number of
people to whom you will act with derech eretz.
It will grow in quality and quantity. It
will be like the proverbial snow ball that rolls down the hill and gets bigger and bigger
as it rolls. This goes for all spiritual growth-projects that you deal with sincerely,
consistently and perseveringly.