What I Learnt From the Florist

Back in Ramat Beit Shemesh after an enjoyable Pesach in England, I went into our local florist to buy flowers l’kovod Shabbos kodesh. I asked him how Pesach was. “Baruch Hashem, he said, I’m already preparing for Shevuot.” I thanked him for his inadvertent mussar. We cannot relax. We have to begin preparing for Shevuos and kabolas HaTorah.

As we have discussed in a previous Pesach article, we must remember the day we came out of Egypt all the days of our life. We have to remember that Hashem redeemed us from bitter slavery on the condition that we accept His service. It was still a great deal because His service is a pleasant service. We gave our joyous and beautiful Shabbos as one example of the pleasant service we are now committed to.

But as the florist said, even though we have just finished Pesach, we have to start preparing for Shevuos and kabolas hatorah. What area of our service to Hashem should we be focusing on now?

Perhaps a hint can be found in the words of the Gemoro (Rosh Hashono 11a). “Someone who goes out in the month of Nissan and sees fruit trees beginning to blossom should say the following brocho. “Boruchshelo chiser me’olomo dovor…lehonos bohem bnei odom.” “Blessed……who did not leave the world lacking and created …beautiful trees to give pleasure to people.” In this brocho we emphasise Hashem’s great kindness. Why did He create peach, plum, cherry and other trees each with beautiful blossom and later with delicious fruit? Only to give us pleasure. When we think about Hashem’s kindness to us, we are inspired to follow in His ways and show kindness to others. This was Avrohom Ovinu’s leitmotif. He saw Hashem’s great kindness in the creation and followed His example by doing chessed to others.

We all know that during the days of Sefiras Ho’omer the pupils of Rebbe Akiva were punished because they did not show each other enough honour. In Chutz Lo’oretz this week the parshos of Tazria and Metzora will be read which according to Chazal illustrate the severe punishment given to those who speak loshon hora. A thought occurred to me that Tazria and Metzora and all other double parshos hint at the concept of ‘loving our neighbour” because in halocho the two parshos are supposed to ‘share’ the seven obligatory aliyos, three and a half for each parsha. On top of all this the forty-nine sefiros which some people mention immediately after they have counted sefiras ho’omer begin with chesed. The first night is chesed shebechesed. From all this it would appear that our focus in these post-Pesach days should be mitzvos bein odom l’chaveiro, showing kindness to each other, giving honour to each other, showing sensitivity to somebody else’s feelings etc.

The Mesilas Yeshorim, (Chapter 19), discussing Chassidus, explains that a vital element in chassidus is the efforts which we have to make on behalf of other people. He says “This is subdivided into three sections; physical, financial and emotional. In terms of physical help a person should try to lighten another person’s load in whatever way he can. If another person is at risk of being damaged and he can prevent that damage or remove it, he should exert himself to do so. In terms of financial help, chassidus requires one to help someone as much as he can and also he must try his best to prevent someone else from suffering financially. As it says in Pirkei Ovos, (2:12) “Let your fellow’s possessions be as dear to you as your own.” Concerning emotional help, we should do everything we can to boost our fellow man whether in terms of honour or any other matter which affects his emotional well-being. If there is anything he could do for his fellow, which would bring that person a sense of satisfaction, it is the imperative of chassidus to do so. Certainly he should not cause his fellow any form of anguish whatsoever through any possible means.”

We have opportunities to put these concepts into practice in our lives on a daily basis. Take the example of walking down the road when someone is coming the other way. I’m not talking about a main road where hundreds of people are walking in all directions. It is a side street and you are approaching this other person. A pleasant “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” can be a major boost to the other person’s morale and to yours as well when the other person responds, as they nearly always do. How can a Jew pass a fellow Jew in the same way he walks past a lamp-post? Greeting a non-Jew is also an easy way to promote good relations with our fellow citizens. During my recent visit to London I greeted Jews and non-Jews frequently and invariably received a pleasant response.

One morning I was walking to shul when a middle-aged non-Jewish lady came out of her gate, leading a little dog which was wearing a coat. On the coat was written “Blind.” You may have seen this lady and her dog yourself. I said “Good Morning” to her and she responded with a “Good Morning” to me. I asked if the dog is really blind. She told me that the dog is indeed blind. She explained that as the weather is getting warmer, the dog won’t be wearing the coat for much longer. Then she looked at me and said the following words. “Thank you for greeting me. No Jew has ever greeted me before.” I said that I was sorry to hear that and continued on my way to shul. Her words are still reverberating round my mind. Here is a lady who lives in the heart of a Jewish neighbourhood, in fact very near a big shul, and no-one has ever said hello to her? I understand that some men may consider it inappropriate and children should not speak to strangers but none of our ladies has ever greeted this poor woman who I surmise is a widow and all she has to do is dote on her dog? Of course everyone is very busy thinking of innumerable things they have to do but if we could make just the small effort of smiling and greeting someone else we could be giving much pleasure to others and ourselves and making a kiddush Hashem at the same time.

I once learnt something important from the late Reb Moishe Schwab zt”l. I was a bachur in Gateshead Yeshiva and after Shacharis went into the small hanhala room at the side of the Beis Hamedrash. Men of my age who learnt in Gateshead yeshiva will remember it. He was talking to a baalabos from the Gateshead kehila and when Reb Moishe zt”l saw me he said to me that he wants to introduce me to one of Gateshead’s choshuva baalabatim- Mr … I could see how this man’s face lit up at being described so generously by Reb Moishe zt”l. even in front of a young bachur like myself. I learnt from this that when we introduce two people to each other, it is a wonderful opportunity to honour them in the other’s eyes and their own. One quickly thinks of a good characteristic or achievement of the people concerned and mentions it even with a touch of exaggeration. These people may never meet again but their self-respect has shot up. They may try to play down what was said but, believe me, they enjoy the kovod they were given and live on it in the future. This is a beautiful example of the Mesilas Yeshorim’s words about giving people koras ruach — self-satisfaction and honour as a form of bein odom l’chaveiro. I have done this many times and it has always been a very effective way of giving simcha to another person.

There is an enormous amount of chessed done in our communities by men and women.

Nevertheless I wanted to share a couple of areas which we can maybe focus on during these weeks which, as I said above, have the theme of mitzvos bein odom lechaveiro. Isn’t that what the florist said — to start preparing for Shevuos? Have a healthy Summer.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? From Strength to Strength and Dancing in our Hearts. His next sefer The Hidden Light will be published אי”ה in a few weeks. It contains a new essay Where was G-d in the Holocaust? and other essays and stories on the themes of emuna and hashgacha.


Yes, of course, Tatty

Seven short weeks after Yetzias Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel were standing at Har Sinai, being offered the Torah. “You saw what I did to Mitzrayim, that I carried you out on the wings of eagles and brought you to me. And now if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be a treasure to me from all the peoples, for the Earth is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” And they accepted the offer — “Everything that Hashem has said we will do.” (Shemos 19:4-8)

Bnei Yisroel’s answer is perplexing. We are known as a stiff-necked, intelligent, perceptive and inquisitive people. Why did they not say, “Wait a minute, the offer looks good but it’s vague. What is in this covenant? What does it require us to do?” Since when has a Jew signed a contract without reading the small print? And in this case, there wasn’t even any small print. They were being asked to agree to a life-long commitment to keep a covenant without any idea of what was involved. As the Tzeduki said to Rava (Shabbos 89.)”You are an impulsive people for agreeing to accept the Torah without knowing what was in it.”

In fact, the nations of the world were apparently better negotiators. When Hashem offered them the Torah, they asked what was in it. Hearing that it contained commands which they were not prepared to keep, they duly turned down the offer. But the Bnei Yisroel just accepted the deal blindly, lock, stock and barrel! Why?

In Parshas Beshalach (13:21) we read, “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so they could travel by day and by night.” The Shem Mishmuel asks, ‘Why did the Bnei Yisroel have to travel by night?’ Who was in charge of their travel arrangements? Hashem. Couldn’t he arrange for travelling by day and resting by night? And if you will say that that they were in a hurry and couldn’t delay, that is no answer because Hashem had already done a kefitzas haderech to bring the Bnei Yisroel from all over Mitzrayim in one night so that they should all leave together. If there was any special hurry, He could have done another kefitzas haderech and Bnei Yisroel could have arrived at any destination Hashem wanted in plenty of time without travelling by night. So why was there a need for the pillar of fire to make night travel possible?

One possible answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question is based on an important passage in Parshas Behaalosecho (Bemidbar 9:15-23). “On the day that the Mishkan was set up, the cloud covered the Mishkan and in the evening a fiery appearance would cover it…When the cloud lifts the Bnei Yisroel will journey and when the cloud stops the Bnei Yisroel will encamp. According to the word of Hashem the Bnei Yisroel will journey and according to the word of Hashem will the Bnei Yisroel encamp…If the cloud stays on the Mishkan for a long time, the Bnei Yisroel will not travel. If the cloud is only on the Mishkan for a few days, by the word of Hashem they will travel and by the word of Hashem they will travel. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for one night or a day and a night and then the cloud will move on. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for two days or a month or a year and the Bnei Yisroel will remain encamped and when the cloud goes up they will travel. According to the word of Hashem they will be encamped, according to the word of Hashem they will travel; they will follow the instructions of Hashem according to the word of Hashem through Moshe.”

Reb Moshe Schwab zt”l once spoke about the message of the pesukim which seem to be rather wordy. He said that we can learn from here how to conduct our lives, always according to the will of Hashem. We may have made plans but if Hashem has other plans, we have to change course. Surely the Bnei Yisroel would have liked at the very least an idea of how long they would be staying in one place. They didn’t know whether it would be one day or twenty years. How can you live your life like that? But Bnei Yisroel were absorbing the message. We have to be prepared to follow Hashem’s will in any situation, whatever that entails. Following on this idea of Reb Moshe, and based on the well-known posuk Lehagid baboker chasdecho ve’emunosecho baleilos,” (Tehilim 92:3), perhaps we can answer the Shem Mishmuel’s question of why Hashem sometimes required the Bnei Yisroel to travel by night by saying that this was necessary to show that sometimes the way Hashem wants us to go is easy and pleasant, symbolised by day. And sometimes Hashem chooses a path which at least for now is not so pleasant for us. We may be tested and challenged; this is symbolized by night but we still have to maintain our emuna and bitachon, following this path with Hashem.

Another answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question could also answer our original question about Bnei Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah without knowing what was in it. Let us picture a family scene: little Shimmy is playing with his toys when his father tells him that they need to go out. Will Shimmy ask where they need to go and why? Will he suggest that maybe it would be a better use of his time to stay at home with his toys? Of course not. He knows his father loves him, does everything for him and knows what’s best for him. If his father says they need to go, he relies totally on his father and off they go.

Hashem had shown His love for Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim. He had kept His promise to Avrohom Ovinu of bringing them out of exile after even less than four hundred years. They had gone out with great riches as promised. He had punished their enemies. He had protected them from all the makkos. He had enabled them to cross the Yam Suf and defeated Amolek. They received food from shomayim and water from a rock.

Of course Bnei Yisroel would be prepared to accept the Torah without investigating the contents. They knew that He was their Tatter in Himmel. They had seen that whatever Hashem wants them to do is for their good and they are capable of doing it. However this could be guaranteed only if Bnei Yisroel remembered clearly everything Hashem has done for them. Often we are excited and inspired by something but by the time we have ‘slept on it’, our inspiration has weakened.

After leaving Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel had to face a succession of new challenges. If they had had time to sleep, the impact of what they had seen, even weeks earlier, might have worn off. A lessening of these monumental impressions might have jeopardised their kabolas HaTorah at Sinai. Hashem gave them extra strength to travel without pause by day and by night, so that they could preserve the clarity of their memory and the freshness of their enthusiasm. When the great day of maamad har Sinai arrived, there would be no doubts.

Hashem who showed His love for us throughout the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim would surely only give us what was for our good. Bnei Yisroel’s response to the offer of the Torah was clear and positive.

“Yes, of course, Tatty. Whatever You say we will do.”

With Adar fast approaching, it is the ideal time to buy Rabbi Fletcher’s new sefer, Dancing in our Hearts. Available at all sefarim shops. Enjoy.