ועשית הישר והטוב בעיני ה׳
“You shall do what is right and what is good in the eyes of Hashem…”
Step # 5 teaches the importance of going beyond the requirements of the law when dealing with our fellow man. This is the lesson of acting לפנים משורת הדין, or, as I describe it, doing the better-than-right thing.
What would you do? A question for students.
A poor man once came to the Brisker Rav on Erev Pesach and asked the following question: Is it permissible to use milk instead of wine for the arba kosot (four cups) at the Seder on Pesach? If you were the rav, you would certainly know that one must use wine and not milk.
As the rav, what would you tell the poor man?
Well, the right thing to do would be to answer the poor man’s question and tell him that he may not use the milk. Can you think of another response?
Here is what the Brisker Rav did: He remained quiet. Instead he took five rubles from his pocket and gave it to the poor man. Later, his wife asked him why he gave the man five rubles when only one would have been more than sufficient for wine. The Rav answered: “If he asked about drinking milk, then it was clear that that he had no meat either. I gave him enough for both wine and meat.”
The Brisker Rav acted lifnim meshurat hadin.
Did you decide you would do what the Brisker Rav did? The chances are that you didn’t. But remember, the great Brisker Rav was once a small child who also needed to learn to perform Step #5. Perhaps someday you, too, will be a great Jew who will teach much wisdom and kindness by the way you treat others.
Everyday Examples in School
The following are frequently recurring events to which we may apply the lesson of lifnim mishurat hadin. (Note: These examples were provided by yeshiva students. They do not represent the only solution but are suggested guidelines. Remember, there are many cases in which the “right” choice may not really be the best choice after all.)
Everyone has to work with a partner and no one wants to work with a certain student:
Right: Pick that person as your partner.
Better than right: After picking her and working with her, tell her that you enjoyed working with her and would like to do it again.
Someone is not paying attention, and the teacher calls on him. He gets the wrong answer and everyone laughs at him:
Right: Yell at everyone to stop laughing.
Better than right: As soon as you can, go over and console him.
Someone makes a bad play in gym and her teammates yell at her:
Right: Tell them they are wrong.
Better than right: Get them to stop by distracting them.
If students are working in a group and someone in the group always disagrees with the rest of the members:
Right: Tell the person to try to agree.
Better than right: Take the person aside and teach him how to compromise.
Someone drops a tray in the lunchroom and everyone applauds and yells, “mazal tov!”
Right: Tell everyone to stop.
Better than right: Hurry over and help him pick everything up.
Someone is sick at home:
Right: Call and wish her a refuah shleimah.
Better than right: Review the work she missed on the phone.
Someone who usually does well in Chumash class does poorly on a test:
Right: Tell him that everyone has an off day.
Better than right: Offer to review the work with him.
Really better than right: Ask him to review the work with YOU!
(The following story is paraphrased, based on the article, “Love Your Neighbor” by columnist Sheila Segal. http://www.ou.org/shabbat_shalom/article/love_your_neighbor/)
There was a large family named Aaron that lived in an apartment in Yerushalayim. One day the family decided that it was time to have an air conditioner installed. They called a highly recommended contractor who told them the best place to install the unit was off the utility porch next to the bathroom.
That summer was one of the hottest in memory, and it continued all the way through September. The family was thrilled to have its wonderful new air conditioner to keep them cool. But at Sukkot time they got a knock on the door. It was from the downstairs neighbor who complained about the racket the air conditioner was making and insisted they get rid of it.
Ironically, the neighbor’s children were very noisy and repeatedly woke everyone up on Shabbat afternoon. When the Aarons complained, the neighbors said they would try to do something about it, although nothing ever changed. It forced the Aarons to close their windows on hot days, which was one of the reasons they got the air conditioning in the first place!
However, the Aarons felt badly about their air conditioner causing a problem for their neighbors and they called the expert back to evaluate their problem. The expert informed them that he had never gotten a single complaint about this unit.
What would you do?
The Aarons, nonetheless, insisted on moving the air conditioner even though it would be costly and inefficient. Worse still, the new installation would jut out into the space of their sunny porch. After an expensive installation, the job was done. The children were very upset because they said that the air conditioner was ugly to look at and that they would constantly bang their heads on it.
However, Mr. Aaron surprised everyone when he said, “To me, it’s beautiful.” His stunned children asked how he could say that, since the whole incident was costly, unpleasant and resulted in an eyesore.
Their father answered, “Yes, it’s beautiful!” he repeated emphatically. “We didn’t have to move the air conditioner. We weren’t obligated by halacha. Our behavior is lifnim mishurat hadin. Every time I see that unit on the porch, it won’t upset me. On the contrary, it has now become an object of infinite value, since we elevated it to the status of a mitzvah.”
Stanley Fischman is currently the supervisor of general studies instruction at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, NJ. He was a yeshiva elementary principal for 35 years, and also served as director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. Recently he celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood: How to Help Your Child Become a Mentsch.”