Sunday, January 16, 2022

Step #6, Part I

The ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and all its pathways are peace. (Mishlei 3:17)

We have learned which behaviors are right and which are wrong and when we must do even more for others than the law requires. We now turn to an even more difficult challenge: learning how to do all of this with the proper attitude and spirit.

What We Learn From Our Rabbis

Step 6 is the only step that is not one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. It is a pasuk in Mishlei that refers to the teachings of the Torah. Our rabbis teach us that the Torah’s ways are pleasant and are not too difficult for us to follow. In fact, we learn from the Ralbag (Rabbi Levi Ben Gershom, Gersonides) that rather than being difficult and too challenging, the mitzvot are designed to be beneficial to us, both physically and spiritually. The Metzudat David adds that the Torah’s “ways of pleasantness” prevent us from stumbling in our hearts to follow its guidance and laws.

The Malbim on our pasuk teaches us that the word “derech” in this case refers to the wide thoroughfares upon which all people travel, and that the “netivot” are the pathways of individuals. As we learn and are inspired by the Torah’s “wide road,” as individuals, we are inspired and fortified with the ability to take its lessons down the pathways of our daily lives.

What Is So Special About Pleasantness?

Clearly, there is something special about the concept of pleasantness, as it is inextricably connected with living our lives according to the mitzvot of the Torah. Step #6 teaches us that as the Torah’s ways are pleasant, so should we be pleasant in the way that we lead our daily lives and interact with others. The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines pleasantness as follows: “Having qualities that lead to pleasure.” The challenge of Step #6 is to perform all the steps we have learned so far in ways that bring pleasure to others. We have all had experiences with people who act in a haughty and condescending fashion regarding the practice of their faith. We sometimes refer to these people as “holier than thou.” A mentsch is someone who always strives to live and demonstrate his “Yiddishkeit” in a pleasant and peaceful manner.

A Noteworthy Story

Rabbi Pesach Krohn, the renowned storyteller and author, relates the story of a Brooklyn man whose wife was in labor, so he sped through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel toll booth to get to Mount Sinai Hospital as quickly as possible. A policeman stopped him on the other side of the tunnel long enough to hear the man’s story and he then sped off.

Upon his return home after the safe birth of his child, the man offered the toll collector two tokens. When he saw the coins, the toll collector (this was before E-ZPass!) asked, “What did you have—a boy or a girl?” The surprised man asked, “How did you know who I was?” The toll collector answered, “The policeman told all the toll collectors that an Orthodox Jew would soon come by and would surely pay for his earlier trip.”

What Do We Learn From This Story?

The policeman obviously had many encounters with Orthodox Jews and learned to see them all as scrupulously honest. Therefore, although the toll collector had never seen this man before, he simply knew that he would not fail to pay his toll. This phenomenon is referred to as a “kiddush Hashem”—the sanctification of Hashem’s name, as we mentioned in the previous step. It is for this reason that when someone fails to follow the “path of pleasantness” in public by not following the Torah’s guidelines, it is referred to as a “chillul Hashem,” a desecration of Hashem’s name.

Kiddush Hashem

We learned in Parshat Emor (Vayikra 22:32):

You shall not desecrate My Holy Name; rather, I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel.

When a Jew acts in a way that causes someone to say, “How could a religious person behave so despicably?” it may actually cause an observer to question the very existence of God. This is a chillul Hashem (a desecration of Hashem’s name). Conversely, when a Jew acts in a way that causes an observer to say that the only way a person could behave in such a fashion is if he were taught by Hashem, this is a kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of Hashem’s name).

The Talmud Yoma (86a) explains the concept of kiddush Hashem. If someone learns Torah and is connected to Torah scholars and his dealings with people will be conducted in a pleasant manner, people will remark, “Praiseworthy is the person who studies Torah. Praiseworthy is the father who taught him Torah, praiseworthy is his rebbe who taught him Torah…”

Do you recall the story of Aaron Feuerstein in Step #5? We said his behavior created a great kiddush Hashem. Mr. Feuerstein was accorded many honors at that time, including one by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. It was there that his rabbi quoted the following story from the Talmud Yerushalmi Baba Metzia 2:5.

It is the story of Rav Shimon Ben Shetach whose students bought a donkey for him from an Arab. They discovered that a precious stone had been attached to the donkey without the seller’s knowledge. When questioned why it was necessary to return the stone even though the law did not require it, Rav Shimon Ben Shetach answered that his goal in life was not to amass wealth but to hear the non-Jew say, “Blessed is the God of Shimon Ben Shetach, blessed is the God of the Jews.”

Both Rav Shimon Ben Shetach and Aaron Feuerstein acted “lifnim mishurat hadin” (Step 5) and both created a kiddush Hashem in the process. It is important to keep in mind that we are not obligated to suffer great financial risk or to risk our very lives to create a kiddush hashem. As this gemara points out, the key is to strive to act in a pleasant manner toward everyone with whom one is in contact. Therefore, our goal is to strive to be the person about whom it is said, “Now, there is a real mentsch!”

Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years. Most recently he was the director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating young Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood: How to Help Your Child become a Mentsch.”

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