July 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was once walking along the street on the eve of Yom Kippur when he passed a fellow from the community. The man had a terrible look of consternation upon his face.

“Good Yom Tov, Reb Yid!” said the rabbi. There was no reply.

A little louder this time, Rabbi Salanter exclaimed, “Good Yom Tov!” Still nothing.

“What’s the matter, my friend?” asked the rabbi.

“Why, it’s Yom Kippur tonight! I’m in a state of introspection and atonement!” said the man.

“That’s understandable,” replied the rabbi, “but, pray tell, just because you’re doing teshuva, why must everyone else suffer?”

***

Today’s daf discusses partners who agreed to build a dividing wall separating the two halves of their property. Such a divider serves not only to demarcate the border between them, but also to protect their privacy. Merely gazing into another person’s property without permission is considered visual trespass.

בּוֹנִין אֶת הַכּוֹתֶל בָּאֶמְצַע וְכוּ׳. פְּשִׁיטָא! לָא צְרִיכָא – דִּקְדֵים חַד וְרַצְּיֵּיהּ לְחַבְרֵיהּ; מַהוּ דְּתֵימָא, מָצֵי אָמַר לֵיהּ: כִּי אִיתְרְצַאי לָךְ – בְּאַוֵּירָא, בְּתַשְׁמִישְׁתָּא – לָא אִיתְרְצַאי לָךְ; קָא מַשְׁמַע לַן. וְהֶיזֵּק רְאִיָּה לָאו שְׁמֵיהּ הֶיזֵּק? תָּא שְׁמַע: ״וְכֵן בְּגִינָּה״! גִּינָּה שָׁאנֵי, כִּדְרַבִּי אַבָּא – דְּאָמַר רַבִּי אַבָּא אָמַר רַב הוּנָא אָמַר רַב: אָסוּר לָאָדָם לַעֲמוֹד בִּשְׂדֵה חֲבֵירוֹ בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁהִיא עוֹמֶדֶת בְּקָמוֹתֶיהָ.
רש”י
אסור לאדם שיעמוד כו’ – שלא יזיקנו בעין רעה

They must build the wall in the middle. Obviously! No, the case is where one proceeded to persuade his friend (that they need the wall). Lest you say he may later say to him: “When I acceded to your request, it was regarding the view. But I did not agree to expanding the wall into my physical property.” Thus, the mishna teaches us that agreement implies use of his land. But is visual trespass not considered damage? Behold this proof: (The mishna states:) “And similarly in a garden (visual trespass is considered damage)!” A garden is different in accordance with Rabbi Abba, for Rabbi Abba quoted Rav Huna, citing Rav: A person is prohibited to stand in his fellow’s field and gaze upon his standing crop.

Rashi: A person is prohibited to stand— Lest he damage it with an evil eye.

***

Generally speaking, the concept of the “evil eye” is understood as an expression of jealousy. Think about how stressful it can be to raise the perfect crop. To plough and sow precisely. To reap at just the right moment. To gather all the produce without damaging any of the individual pieces. Seeing someone standing there watching him while he toils over his field tends to be unhelpful. You can imagine how he might be thinking to himself, “What does this fellow want? Why is he standing there, watching me? Is he planning something untoward? Are the folks out there jealous of my success?”

Often, however, the observer may have no ill intent whatsoever. He may be standing there simply admiring his neighbor’s beautiful orchard and seeking some good ideas about how to grow his own crop. The last thing he wants is to damage this hardworking individual’s output. Nevertheless, caution our Sages, the farmer doesn’t know what’s going through his neighbor’s mind. And from his perspective, it can be a cause of anxiety to have someone peering over your shoulder.

You see, it’s not just about saying or doing the right thing for other people. You also need to consider whether you might be stressing them out without even saying or doing anything at all. Being in their presence when they need their alone time may feel like you’re helping, but sometimes the mitzvah entails staying away. For example, our Sages caution against immediately visiting mourners if you’re not particularly close to them.

Of course, it’s not just about visiting people and actively forcing your presence upon them. Often, our daily interactions bring our presence into the lives of others. When that occurs, you always need to ensure your presence is fully alert and attentive to others. Simply passing another person in the street while you’re wearing an expressionless face, what effect might you unwittingly be having on their life?

On the flipside, right now you might be dealing with stress and tension in your life. Rabbi Salanter’s message to the fellow engrossed in teshuva on Erev Yom Kippur was that just because Hashem gave you a measure of discomfort in your life, it’s no mitzvah to share it with everyone else around you. As Rav Noach Weinberg would say: “No matter how you feel on the inside, your face is public property.”

Rabbi Moshe Ibgui[1] notes that if you can cause harm simply by our presence, then you can certainly be a source of blessing by mere virtue of your presence. Our Sages tell us that our patriarch Avraham was so saintly that solely upon gazing upon his presence, one could be healed. Here’s an incredible idea to contemplate: As a descendant of Avraham Avinu, you have inherited this powerful potential!

Before you show up, think about whether your friend needs or wants you there at this moment. When you’re in the company of others, ask yourself whether you’re brightening up the room or casting a shadow. May your presence always be a source of comfort, joy and pleasure to all around you!

[1] Chochmas Hamatzpun, Eikev


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He battles Christian antisemitism and teaches International Relations at Landers.

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