Sensitivity Amidst Turmoil

Day 16 – Berachos 17

אָמְרוּ עָלָיו עַל רַבָּן יוֹחָנָן בֶּן זַכַּאי שֶׁלֹּא הִקְדִּימוֹ אָדָם שָׁלוֹם מֵעוֹלָם, וַאֲפִילּוּ גּוֹי בַּשּׁוּק.

Berachos 17

The Gemara mentions that they said about Rabban Yocḥanan ben Zakkai that no one ever preceded him in issuing a greeting, not even a non-Jew in the marketplace, as Rabban Yocḥanan would always greet him first.

This week we mark the 66th Yahrzeit of Rav Dessler. In his monumental sefer Michtav M’Eliyahu (Volume 4, page 246), he writes about the importance of Derech Eretz.

The root of the obligation to have Derech Eretz in embedded in the very nature of humanity. We must be respectful to other people because they are people. 

The Mishna in Avos (3;14) tells us that Man is endeared because he is created in the image of God. The Rambam (Avoda Zara, 10;5)  therefore rules that one must ask even a Non-Jew how they are doing, as they too are created in the image of God. 

Rav Dessler then gives us a powerful and vivid portrayal of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai. The Gemara (Sukka 28) tells us that Rabban Yochanan was an immense scholar. He was an expert in all areas of Torah, from Mikra to Mishna, from Agada to Astrology, from Halacha to Angelic conversations and more. In addition, he was the leader of the Jewish people during the turbulent period of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. He literally had the weight of Klal Yisrael on his shoulders, in their most stressful time. 

Yet, he always had the presence of mind to greet everyone he passed by with a “Shalom”. Such was the sensitivity of Rabban Yochanan towards his fellow man. 

Even when your head is in the clouds, your feet must be stuck on the ground. 

Rav Dessler comments that this was not simply a Middas Chassidus or some sort of extra thing that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai did. In fact, it is an obligation on every single Jew to greet one’s fellow man. One who does not do so, is called a Gazlan, a thief. Rashi (Brachos 6b) comments that this is akin to stealing from the poor, of whom there is nothing to steal from them except for their self-worth. 

We see from these powerful words how much one has to be sensitive towards another. Without getting political, in today’s day and age, we tend to cross the street when we see someone of a different race, gender or origin coming towards us.

Let us embrace the ways of Rabban Yochanan and increase peace in this world by being the people of peace and treating all mankind with respect and sensitivity. 

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