Stories to Show Why We Need the Motivation of Heavenly Punishment & Fear, In Addition to the Motivation of Reward & Love
This post is connected to a previous post:
Why We Feel Reluctant to Address Judgmental or "Scary" Aspects of Jewish Belief—And Why We Should Anyway
For the past couple of generations, most people do not appreciate learning about punishment or fear of God or anything they deem "negative."
As children & teenagers, some felt overwhelmed by an dysfunctional or heavy emphasis on Heavenly chastisement or fear of God & fear of Heavenly wrath.
Due to negative experiences, others genuinely struggle to relate to Torah concepts of punishment & fear in the healthy & beneficial way Judaism requires.
Upon initially entering the frum world, I also felt strong resistance to these concepts.
They simply do not fit in to modern slogans of "Live & let live!" "I'm okay, you're okay!" "Do your own thing!" And so on.
Yes, love, reward, and the feel-good aspects should be the main focus of Judaism.
At the same time, it's a problem to cast aside one of the core fundamentals of Judaism just because they don't feel good or are harder to accept.
After all, the fundamentals regarding the seemingly "negative" or "scary" aspects exist for a reason.
Using Healthy Fear as Part of Your Arsenal against the Yetzer Hara
Knowing that any forbidden pleasure we experience in This World will need to be paid back (unless we do teshuvah) via suffering in This World or the Next—this can stop our yetzer hara in its tracks.
Yes, directing our minds toward the positive, reward, creates the best path toward goodness.
Knowing the great appreciation in Shamayim for our self-restraint or ability to change direction in the middle of a challenging situation—these also help us so much toward doing the right thing!
But the idea of negative consequences helps more than people realize.
As long as you imagine Hashem will reward you enormously for even your minutest acts of good (and it IS true—He will do exactly that!) while overlooking your lesser deeds & motives (because of popular excuses like tinok sheh nishba, a weak generation, significant self-improvement & self-awareness is only for tzaddikim, etc.)—you may find yourself blissfully ignoring some very problematic aspects.
For example, the majority of people (including personality disorders) indulge in an abusive behavior because they minimize the abusive behavior as "cute" or "clever" or "funny" or being out of their control because, hey, that's just how they are and it even runs in the family.
(I call the last one The Popeye Defense: ♪"I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam—I'm Popeye the sailor man!"♫ Please note: This jingle is not considered a legitimate sanigor before the Heavenly Tribunal. Singing it on Judgement Day is not a Get-Out-of-Gehinnom-Free card.)
Or they justify the abusive behavior as being served just desserts—their victim deserved it.
In the personality disordered mind, their abuse of others is considered self-defense.
The Danger of Victim Mentality
A key precursor to abusive behavior is self-pity.
"I'm a victim!"
They see their victims as their persecutors, which allows them (in their own dysfunctioning mind) to behave however they want.
The most extreme examples of where victim mentality leads:
Sociopaths/Psychopaths often know what they're doing without excuses, but not always and anyway, the majority of abusive behaviors derive from the above excuses.
So because the victim mentality is the main justification for abusive behavior, we're focusing on that.
Not all abusive behavior means someone is an abusive person overall.
A generally decent person may engage in abusive behaviors at times.
The knowledge that a behavior is forbidden & not so easily dismissed by Hashem as we like to think can prevent us from indulging ourselves.
The Little-Known Prohibition of Chanifah
The final reason why it's important to embrace of the concept of Heavenly punishment (even as your prime focus remains on Heavenly reward) is for the sake of others.
And to avoid chanifah.
Chanifah, often translated as flattery, means to act like the forbidden is permitted.
A much overlooked prohibition in our times—have you even attended a shiur dedicated to chanifah?—the Torah states its prohibition outright, plus it's mentioned in every mussar sefer with some (Orchot Tzaddikim, Pele Yoetz, etc.) dedicating an entire chapter to chanifah.
Realizing that your support of abusive behavior against others might get both you & them into some pretty hot water eventually...that might give you the insight & the courage to stand up for what's right.
Or at least, it can imbue you with the insight & courage to NOT be so fast to dismiss or chuckle at or justify behavior that causes suffering for others.
YOU might think it's not such a big deal.
However, HASHEM may disagree.
(He actually says in the Torah what He thinks. If we read it, we can know.)
A friend described a marriage in which the husband heaped verbal abuse upon his family for years.
He ended up with a disease attacking the lower part of his face that caused his jaw and mouth to decompose. (Much like leprosy—a Torah-ordained disease for those who misuse their tongue for slander, rumor-mongering, tale-bearing, etc.)
Unfortunately, he refused to invest in any self-introspection or change of behavior.
So he continued with his abusive behavior by growling and expressing displeasure via the only part of his speaking apparatus still in operation: his throat.
Furthermore, his decomposing flesh stank and he continued to remain in a terrible mood with all his nasty growling & grunting.
I found this absolutely bizarre.
Yet his long-suffering wife agreed to endure all this to allow him to remain at home, which was more comfortable for him than the hospital.
You'd think he'd be grateful.
But he wasn't.
Entrenched in his victim mentality (whereby he viewed his family as CAUSING him to yell at & berate them), his suffering made him even more miserable & frustrated, which to his already warped mind, further legitimized his nasty & harmful behavior.
After all, to his mind, circumstances grant him the RIGHT to be angry & growly!
I keep this in mind for my own self-restraint because abusive people always think their abuse is justified.
They do not see themselves as abusers but rather as the victim.
It's easy to justify one's bad behavior as "not my fault" or "he deserved it" or "just kidding!"
Believe me, the jaw-diseased guy felt his family deserved the lash of his tongue (even when the tongue was no longer there).
So his belief in himself as a victim kept his heart hardened.
Yet if a person's jaw & mouth & tongue starts to decompose, it should bring one to ponder: "Do I use my oral apparatus properly?"
Perhaps he could have halted or even reversed his disease by halting his verbally abusive behavior.
But we know what the Gemara Eruvin 19a says about how a rasha standing at the gate of Gehinnom still won't do teshuvah...
At the age of 81, a woman confided to me (among others before me) that her 12-year-old brother started abusing her when she was 8, and that the abuse continued for 4 years until he stopped himself.
Telling her parents did nothing to stop the abuse. (She overheard the conversation between her parents: Her father wanted to throw out the boy; her mother refused. The father capitulated to the mother. For whatever my opinion's worth, they're both equally responsible for allowing it to continue. Being a spineless excuse for a man is no excuse.)
The young victim went on to lead a messed-up life before making her peace with God toward middle age, but this return to Torah did not save her from 2 marriages to bad men, both ending in divorce (and the incarceration of Husband #2).
In the meantime, her brother went on to lead a decent life, marrying a wonderful woman & raising a nice family.
But as Rav Miller said in the previous post linked above, Hashem doesn't forget.
Especially if you never say sorry or do a darn thing to make amends, Hashem eventually calls in the account.
At age 42, her brother contracted cancer of the you-guess-what.
As you can imagine, the progression & attempted treatment of that disease in that specific area is particularly painful & humiliating.
My friend (his younger sister) visited him several times in the hospital & saw all his suffering for around 9 months.
As with the above example of oral cancer after a lifetime of verbally abusive behavior, the connection here to his former abuse is pretty obvious.
She saw Heavenly Justice meted out before her eyes.
Here was proof that Hashem was on HER side; He cared about her pain & sought to punish her abuser.
Shortly before her brother died, he looked at her and said something like, "I know why this is happening. I know why Hashem struck me with this disease. It's because of what I did to you. I know I deserve this. And I'm sorry."
And he meant everything he said.
He wasn't just sorry because he was dying in a disgusting & painful manner.
He understood the tremendous pain & trauma he'd caused her & felt remorse for that.
And she was able to forgive him with her whole heart.
She told me this with a glowing face; she felt good about truly being able to let it go.
(I think seeing his immense suffering helped.)
She never forgave her mother, however.
She stated that outright: "I will NEVER forgive my mother!"
She simply can't.
Emotional abuse is the hardest abuse to identify.
It so often looks accidental, innocent, and harmless.
Yet it eats away at its victim.
I used to compare emotional abuse to a person standing on a chair changing a light bulb when the abuser walks by and kicks the chair out from under the person, causing the person to crash to the floor.
At that point, the chair-kicker either looks surprised it happened or continues on his way as if he didn't notice a thing.
When the victim asks why the chair-kicker wasn't more careful or even accuses the chair-kicker of kicking the chair on purpose, the chair-kicker responds with one of the following responses:
(Note: An emotional abuser who starts off with Minimization often graduates to Defensiveness or Outrage when pressed.)
But when a friend's emotionally abusive (and sometimes verbally abusive) husband developed a disease that ate away at his innards over the course of 2 years, I wondered why that disease. Why his gut?
Furthermore, his lack of self-scrutiny or self-improvement puzzled me.
Despite treatment involving the icky removal of parts of his stomach & intestines, he continued to be unfailingly grouchy & ungrateful toward his family the entire time—including toward his wife who insisted on caring for him at home, which included the special & intricate preparation of foods for him—all so he could be more comfortable than in a hospital.
Bizarrely, he never apologized for any of his behavior toward his wife over the past 20 years, nor his behavior toward anyone else.
(And yes, he had been told at times that his behavior was inappropriate and in the case of one of his children, appalling.)
Even as things grew worse & a loved one offered to help him make amends to others as best he could in that state, HE REFUSED!!!
Yes, this was a frum guy, a very knowledgeable frum guy who learned Torah copiously on a daily basis.
Yet at the end of his life, he refused to consider whether he needed to apologize to anyone.
Instead, he said he preferred to leave it all up to the Heavenly Beit Din.
It sounds all nice, full of temimut & emunah, but that was a terrible choice.
(Rav Miller says so, but I can't remember where.)
I do not know whether apologizing & changing his behavior could have stopped or even reversed his disease at some point.
But after thinking about it, I realized that this disease reflects the reality of emotional abuse more than my chair-kicking-out-from-under parable.
Emotional abuse is subtle.
It slowly eats away at the victim, leaving the victim in a constant state of anxiety, self-loathing, self-doubt, and despair.
Emotional abuse often affects the victim's physical & mental health.
For example, another friend married to an emotionally abusive husband came to the brink of suicide.
She only told me later. I was shocked.
She was a very solid, down-to-earth person who always demonstrated enormous reserves of inner fortitude.
Furthermore, in the 25 years I knew them, she never once reported any instance of verbal abuse on his part—it was purely emotional abuse (as far as I know).
And that, combined with another traumatic event in life, brought a person like her to utter despair.
Fortunately, Hashem helped save her from herself (she realized that suicide is arguably the single most abusive act a parent commit against a child), and she dropped her deadly plans, got divorced, and went on to live a relatively productive & satisfactory life (which eventually included a satisfying second marriage to a kind-hearted person).
Emotional abuse is very, very difficult to see from the outside.
Heck, it's even difficult for the victim herself/himself to realize what's going on because it's so insidious.
It does not LOOK like abuse.
And I'm ashamed to admit that in both situations above, I did not initially understand what was going on, so did not offer the proper support necessary in the above situations.
But it's important to know that it exists in order to give victims support & avoid supporting the emotional abusers.
When to Make the Correlation...And When Not
Some people find the above correlations arrogant & presumptuous.
They say things like:
"Just because a guy's tongue completely decomposes after a lifetime of using that tongue for verbal abuse—that doesn't mean God's punishing him for verbal abuse, ya know! You sound very judgemental."
So be it.
In these cases, I think I'm right to be judgmental. It helps me correct my own behavior.
At the same time, it's vital to note: When someone suffers, we should NOT go poking around for the reason why they suffer.
Both Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender & Rav Papo (Pele Yoetz) warn strongly against doing this!
Very good people suffer for the sins of their generation and/or their past lives.
There is the concept of tzaddik v'ra lo.
Also, different kinds of suffering help us develop wisdom & compassion & increase our awareness of our dependence on Hashem (when we're not having a total breakdown from the suffering, that is...)
But if you happen to know someone is unrepentantly abusive for years AND he eventually contracts a disease of the EXACT part of the body used for this abuse...
...it's okay to make the correlation!
It would be nice if, seeing as he refuses to connect the dots himself, someone would tell him.
It could either stop or reverse the disease (though at this point, I don't think regrowth of the verbally abusive tongue, mouth, and jaw is possible).
It could at least help save his Olam Haba. He could be saved from afterlife punishment.
Why suffer in BOTH worlds?
In short: Denial of Divine consequences helps no one.
Irreparable? Unforgivable? That's No Excuse.
As in the previous post, Rav Miller emphasizes how the death-causing transgressions were either long-term or very extreme—with NO expression of remorse on the side of the wrong-doer.
Even those with years of opportunity to make an attempt at amends...they didn't.
In the case of my friend & her brother, it seems he realized he was wrong because he stopped of his own accord, yet he had FOUR YEARS to stop himself (before he actually did) and then he did nothing to make amends to his sister for all that trauma—until decades later, after a lot of suffering & shortly before he died.
A lot of people will say what he did was unforgivable & there is no way to make it up to her.
But that does not absolve an abuser of the obligation to try.
Stopping isn't enough, especially regarding such horrible long-term abuse.
Apology. Making amends. Doing teshuvah.
These are the necessities.
What Does All This Mean to Me?
Bringing this back home...
Needless to say, I'm far from perfect & can also indulge myself or dismiss certain actions as "Well, that was a long time ago" or "Can't do anything about it now anyway..." or "It doesn't really matter" or "It's not such a big deal" or "I wasn't REALLY so angry" or "It wasn't THAT bad" and so on.
Just like most others do.
Or "It was just a joke" or "She kind of deserved it" or "Hey, I was just being honest!" or "It felt good from my end..."
Just like most others do.
But again, the question remains whether Hashem dismisses that behavior so easily.
And ignorance can only protect us for so long.
As we see in the above examples, plus the examples from Rav Miller in the previous post, Hashem offers people YEARS to wake up to the harm of their behavior.
And especially frum people who learn mussar, who learn Torah, and learn halachah...
What is our excuse for years of ignoring overt Torah directives?
Please also remember: It's NOT about being PERFECT.
It's about TRYING.
All the above examples showed people who never tried (as far as anyone ever knew anyway).
In another lecture, Rav Miller gave the example of someone who restrained himself for 15 minutes before yelling. (Usually, he didn't restrain himself at all.)
Many people think that's nothing, but you'd be surprised at the vast majority of yellers who NEVER hold back at all (unless in public—but in their home, they lack the shame that restrains them in public).
Here's my point:
Seeing evidence of Hashem's Judgment helps me curb my own behavior & strive for self-awareness & self-control in a variety of areas—even when I'm feeling lazy or despairing or angry.
Not that I'm so great, but just a little better than I would be without the knowledge of negative consequences.
For many of us, reward simply is not enough.
We need the motivation of considering the negative consequences too.
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For your convenience, here is the link again to the previous post connected to this one:
Here is another post related to this one:
Rav Avigdor Miller on Sukkot: The Ultimate Meaning of the Sukkah—Spiritually, Nationally, and Personally
In Rav Avigdor Miller's dvar Torah for Sukkos 2 - Lessons of The Sukkah, we learn how to hold on to all the goodness we earned from Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur.
Here's Rav Avigdor Miller on pages 3-4:
When I was in yeshiva in Slabodka — a long time ago — on the day after Yom Kippur, in the morning, the Rosh Yeshiva said a few words to the bnei yeshiva.
Rav Miller offers examples he witnessed of people behaving with leitzanus on Simchat Torah—emanating from the misunderstanding of what Jewish simcha really means (i.e. being happy without disrespect or silly-seeming forbidden behavior).
Sukkot also means a lot of socializing with both family & friends—which can lead to all kinds of behavior beneath Torah standards if we aren't careful.
Yet huge benefit of Sukkot is to hold on to all the good we earned from Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur.
The Meaning of Schach
In appreciating the standards applying to the building of the Sukkah (not too high, not too low, the walls & leafy/bamboo "roof" a certain way, etc.) & pondering these as we sit in the Sukkah, we recall the 40 years of Am Yisrael in the Midbar.
Such a large group of a couple million people altogether, and random diseases did not spread through the group, malnutrition & hunger never appeared—nor filth or theft (despite everyone leaving Egypt with lots of valuables & sleeping in unfortified sukkahs).
So on page 12, Rav Miller states:
But you’re thinking; you look up at the schach and you’re thinking.
And on page 14:
You should gain an awareness; a sensory feeling that the shechina is overhead at
And bringing that idea of schach into both a historical & modern perspective (page 14—not sure which President he refers to here):
It means we are living in a world of enemies and it’s only because we are in Hashem’s sukkah that we survive.
And that's all what we should be thinking about (and discussing with others, if they're open to it) when we look up at the schach in our sukkah.
Rav Miller quotes a heart-warming idea from the Rambam (page 16):
...the stories that we read about in the chumash about the whole nation apply equally to each person individually.
On pages 17-18, Rav Miller presents an inspiring story of how a Mafia hit (they bombed his store) forced a Jew to get a different job, which allowed him more opportunity for davening & learning, which changed his life & himself for the better.
Rav Miller presents his own role in this as fleeting, but the truth is Rav Miller's advice both saved this man's life & enabled this positive change.
The Main Lesson to Take into the Sukkah
On pages 19-21, Rav Miller explains all the anthropomorphism used by the Torah when describing Hashem (like He has a Hand, Nostrils, Anger, a really awesome Chariot, and so on).
He explains why the Torah does that and why Rambam & Onkelos explain it away, and why the Torah does it anyway.
If the anthropomorphism woven throughout Tanach ever bothered you, these pages are good to read.
Let's go into to the holy day of Sukkot with Rav Miller's concluding words on the topic:
As much as possible, use the sukkah to gain an awareness of that great fact that Hakodosh Boruch Hu is overhead and He is the one who is guiding us and protecting us forever and ever.
Don't forget to check out the Practical Tip for enhancing your Sukkot on page 24.
Credit for all material & quotes go to Toras Avigdor.
To download the free PDF all about Sukkot & Simchat Torah from Rav Itamar Schwartz's lectures, please click here:
For past posts on Sukkot, please see:
For Shemini Atzeret & Simchat Torah:
Or, just click on Sukkot in the sidebar under "Categories."
For a follow-up post, please see here:
In modern times, most people do not like hearing about punishment or fear of God or anything appearing "negative."
Some people endured throughout childhood a dysfunctional representation of Heavenly chastisement or yirah (fear/reverence of God).
Others experienced punitive punishments by dysfunctional parents and/or teachers, and never having experienced punishment or yirah in a positive context, genuinely struggle to relate to these concepts in the healthy & beneficial way Judaism requires.
And as understandable as that resistance is, it's also a pity to miss out on one of the core fundamentals of Judaism.
What's Wrong with This Picture?
Initially, I also felt strong resistance to this concept.
And at the time I was becoming frum, most people teaching about Torah Judaism skirted this issue (much to my relief & self-satisfaction).
My resistance was validated time & again as I heard how our generation cannot hear about Heavenly punishment & din & yirah, and so we should not speak about it; instead, the focus should ONLY be on Hashem's Love & on the feel-good aspects of Judaism.
This is partly true, of course. Love & the feel-good aspects should be the main focus.
But not the ONLY focus.
First of all, I couldn't help noticing that these supposedly "negative" or "scary" concepts infuse every part of Torah Judaism, whether the halachic works, Torah commentaries, mussar books, or—well, EVERYTHING.
I also encountered teachers & writers who explained these concepts in an authentic & positive way—which helped enormously.
Furthermore, upon encountering serious difficulties & yissurim in life, I discovered the feel-good-only side left me without the tools to gain insight into suffering or otherwise deal with suffering in a meaningful manner.
Finally, by acknowledging the din and yirah and punishment aspects of Hashem, one sees fairness & justice in an otherwise seemingly unfair world. (For some of us, this glimpse of justice is highly gratifying.)
So these seemingly "harsh" or "scary" or "negative" concepts can & SHOULD be used positively.
In fact, these seemingly repellent parts of Hashem actually derive from His Great Love for us.
Yes, these too are expressions of His Love (even when they feel like the direct opposite).
Depending on your personality & past experience, embracing this fact may be easier or excruciatingly harder.
But just because it presents a challenge (and for some people, an understandably mountainous challenge) doesn't mean such a fundamental part of Judaism should be ignored, denied, or disdained.
When It's Helpful to See Hashem's Justice in This World
For some of us, the knowledge that whatever forbidden pleasure we experience in This World will need to be paid back (either by suffering in This World or suffering in the Next World)—this is exactly what stops us from doing the wrong thing at times.
Yes, thinking of the great reward in store for us when we stop ourselves is wonderful.
Knowing the great appreciation in Shamayim our self-restraint or ability to change direction in the middle of a challenging situation—these also help us so much toward doing the right thing.
However, most of us discover that some urges respond better to fear of the negative consequences.
Furthermore, while many people focus on fear of punishment for, say, not saying the right bracha, real-life examples show Hashem concerns Himself with punishing bein adam l'chavero (person-to-person) transgressions—like any kind of extreme ongoing pain caused to another.
It's true that we don't always see that in This World.
Sometimes, Hashem lets an awful person live it up in This World to reward that person now for any miniscule good performed—and then that awful person suffers for all their awfulness in the Next World (without our ability to witness it from here).
But we do see instances of justice meted out in This World.
When Hashem Doesn't Agree with Your Self-Perception of Funny, Cute, Clever, or Victimized
Rav Miller writes the following:
Once there was a girl – a young woman.
In a much later lecture, Rav Miller apparently refers again to the same girl & teacher (emphasis mine):
Here’s a girl in Bais Yaakov.
People don't like to hear this.
They like to go on with tons of excuses like:
Or, if it's the perpetrator:
...and so on.
The question becomes whether Hashem agrees with these excuses.
Years of observation showed me that many—maybe most?—people who make nasty little barbs or humiliate others tend to consider themselves clever or cute or funny.
They don't consider their behavior truly wicked.
Even if they admit they did something mean, they categorize it as a "cute" kind of mean, or a meanness that's funny or clever.
And that their victim deserves it in some way.
Another huge percentage consider themselves a victim in some way.
Similar to the above, they feel their victim has it coming to them—the difference being they may not lighten it up with cute, clever, or funny, but outright anger instead.
The "I'm the victim here!" types can go either way.
(Note: People with a personality disorder (PD) almost always see themselves as the victim in a situation, regardless of how irrational that self-perception is.
And despite what most PD professionals will tell you, it's generally not consciously manipulative—sometimes it is, but often not. If it's usually consciously manipulative, then it's probably sociopathy, not a conventional personality disorder. But PDs genuinely see themselves as the victim.
That's how they allow themselves to be so abusive. To them, it's noble self-defense.)
Back to Rav Miller's example above: Do you think the mocking student considered herself a bad person?
In my experience, highly unlikely.
She most likely considered herself clever & funny, plus she probably thought the teacher deserved it for being "pathetic" (to the girl's mind) or not up-to-par in some way—which makes the class the victim of the teacher's incompetence (in the eyes of this particular girl, anyway).
The girl also probably thought she could get away with it because she's young, she's a teenager, blah, blah, blah.
I can't know for certain, of course, but according the situation described here, that's my experience with these types.
(Note: Having been a teen myself with teen peers, plus having raised & dealt with other teens, it's clear teens are aware of the ability to get away with certain behaviors simply because it's excused by society as "typical adolescent." The law also provides tremendous leeway for those under 18. And that attitude is considered normal & acceptable since the 70s-80s.)
So for some of us, it helps us to know that how ever funny, clever, cute, or victimized we may perceive ourselves, Hashem may not agree our humiliating or hurtful behavior is justified.
And that can help us rein it in.
(Please also note the rewarding & loving aspect of yirah: "it will ADD to you years"!)
A Bat Yisroel isn't Refundable
In another scenario, Rav Miller says the following:
Here’s a man who died young; he got ill and died young.
Here's another lecture apparently speaking about the same guy:
Here’s a man – a beautiful man. A strong, tall man and a good learner. A tchachka he was. Something special – a real tachshit.
I think this guy's behavior showed particular repellence because it looks like he took his bride—a young innocent bat Melech—for test-drive & then decided he didn't like the make.
It's so callous & dehumanizing.
It's very humiliating & devastating for her—a public rejection of the most profoundly personal type.
You can't just do that to people & get away with it.
So yeah, he was likable & good guy and woo-woo, he was a real Torah-learner!
But being knowledgeable in Torah makes you MORE culpable.
Hashem expects more of you because you know better.
So despite everything...yes, being a jerk can get a person killed.
Here's similar one:
Here’s the case of a young man who died.
This is similar to the one above.
Many of us influenced by secular Western society may not appreciate the severity of these infractions presented by Rav Miller.
But the more we train our brains to think like Hashem thinks, the more we understand the events around us.
What about the Power of Forgiveness?
Some of you may be wondering about forgiving others & the severe result of another Jew being punished because of your grudge.
So Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender addresses this issue in Words of Truth Volume II.
He expounded on the importance of not only remaining silent in the face of verbal attacks (rather than respond with an attack of your own), but to also completely forgive the verbal attacker.
At the same time, he noted that Hashem does not necessarily forgive the initial attacker.
According to Hashem's cheshbon, the person did something very wrong—regardless of how you, the victim, feel about it.
In the above examples, Rav Miller notes the teacher may have forgotten all about the humiliating interactions.
It could be that in the teacher's heart, the teacher even forgave the girl, excusing it as immaturity & not intentional cruelty.
It could also be that the former kallot from the above stories also decided to forgive their former chatan.
I don't know. Maybe not. But maybe yes.
Regardless, it can also be that Hashem refuses to forgive.
And in that case, He doesn't punish on the cheshbon of the victim, but for Hashem's own Sake.
A Good Scare is Better Than a Bad Move
The point here is that keeping the above in mind can help a lot when we feel the irresistible urge to be cute, clever, funny...
...or when we wish to avenge/rectify perceived victimization.
Regardless of how light or justified our actions seem in our own eyes, if it hurts another person, the above examples show how important it is to think it through more deeply before acting.
Thinking about the positive results for good behavior help so much.
But sometimes, only a fear of the consequences provide us with the self-restraint necessary to overcome our yetzer hara.
And that's why some of us find these anecdotes so helpful.
Here's an important message excerpted from a shiur given by Rav Itamar Schwartz about authentic self-confidence & "believing" in oneself (boldface mine):
Firstly we need to understand properly what the concept of self-confidence is.
This means a self-denigrating person lacks true self-awareness.
One can also extrapolate from this that if a person insists on believing he is the hopeless exception, like if he refuses to believe he too possesses certain abilities & capabilities AND if he refuses to believe he possesses the ability to actualize them...
...it's a kind of heresy.
The authentic Torah belief is:
Hashem infused these into every person.
So if you think you lack those, then what are you saying about Hashem?
What are you saying about authentic Torah knowledge?
You MUST believe this!
It's daat Torah.
(Hopefully, you know this in a happy way.)
And like many other real talmidei chachamim, Rav Schwartz encourages us to discover this potential by investing in the following:
Think about the good abilities which Hashem has implanted within you, and then think about what your most special ability is, which is hidden within you.
To sum up:
The Key to Minimizing Sinat Chinam & Increasing Ahavat Yisrael: A Quote from Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender
Unfortunately, much of the world believes that seeing the negative aspects of things means you're honest.
However, the negative aspects are so easy to see, they often jump out at us.
Or, if someone seems oh-so perfect, we actively seek out his or her defects (unless we feel better served by raising him or her upon the highest pedestal possible in cultist adoration).
But according to authentic Torah Judaism, you've only seen the real picture when you've found the good aspects of the person or situation.
It doesn't mean you see a bad person or an evil situation as all sweetness & light.
Whitewashing isn't the goal here. (Whitewashing can even cause terrible damage.)
But simply find a point of light.
That's because everything comes from Hashem.
If you can't see Hashem's spark in there somewhere, you're missing something.
So here are a couple of stories of regular frum people behaving exceptionally...
...because good people always deserve more attention than bad people.
Grace in the Face of Errant Chicken Legs
Once, as I was still pretty fresh in the baal teshuvah movement in Eretz Yisrael, I found myself sitting across the table from a beautiful young FFB seminary girl of Egyptian extraction.
She seemed so perfectly lovely, eidel, wholesome and so perfectly FFB, I felt a bit intimidated as we all partook of the Shabbat meal together.
She was a teenage Beis Yaakov girl, either from Lakewood or New York, and I imagined her life & knowledge as very different—and better—than mine.
While trying to remove the meat from my chicken drumstick with a knife & fork, I made a wrong move.
The drumstick shot off my plate and skidded across the table before coming to a stop when it hit the edge of the plate of the lovely girl.
"Oh!" she instinctively said in surprise.
I was so embarrassed, I couldn't even speak and instead just looked at her in open-mouthed consternation.
She blinked, then took on relaxed buddy-buddy persona. "Oh," she said, flapping her hand reassuringly. "That happens to me ALL the time." And she gave me an encouraging smile while nodding her head.
Her friend sitting next to her, Lakey from Lakewood, looked at her like, What? No, it doesn't!
But Lakey tactfully didn't say anything.
However, I was thinking the same thing as Lakey apparently was.
But the lovely girl's gracious response helped me recover enough to apologize. "I'm really sorry about that."
"It's fiiiiine," she said, still playing oh-so casual—as if she really did shoot drumsticks on a regular basis at Shabbos meals.
"That's really nice of you," I said. And I meant it.
In response, she just blinked & gave me an innocent smile as if she had no idea what I meant.
I got to know her (and Lakey) a bit more throughout the year, and found her to be consistently sweet & refined.
Lakey was also an exceptionally good & mature young woman with a solid head on her shoulders.
Another time, I was a guest at the Shabbat table of good friends of mine, an American baal teshuvah couple around 10 years older than me who'd also moved to Eretz Yisrael.
Across the table from me sat a brother-sister duo from Lakewood, doing their "year in Israel." They were younger siblings of a rebbetzin the hosts had known back in the USA.
When the host asked the brother where he was learning, the brother answered, "Ponovezh."
I innocently asked, "What's that?"
The brother frowned, then raised his eyebrows and said, "Ponovezh?"
"Yeah," I said. "What is it? Like, I'm assuming it's a yeshivah. But what kind of yeshivah is it?"
He blinked. "You don't know what Ponovezh is?"
He wasn't being rude or critical, just in a state of genuine disbelief.
Or maybe he thought I might be pulling his leg.
So that's not a comfortable situation for him either.
At that point, the couple started chuckling in a good-natured manner.
Meanwhile, the younger sister, Zissy, was looking at each of us with increasing consternation.
"Oh," I said, my shoulders drooping, but trying to be good-humored about it. "Is that like asking what Harvard is?"
Still chuckling, the couple nodded and said, "Yeah, kind of."
"Oh, okay," I said, nodding & still trying to act like I found it funny too. But inside, I felt a little embarrassed and like, Am I ever going to catch up? Clearly, I'm still not getting the really obvious stuff that everyone else seems to know already.
At this point, Zissy looked outright distressed as she kept glancing around at all of us.
Then a look of resolve came over Zissy. She turned to me with a smile and in the friendliest way, she said, "Why should you know what Ponovezh is?"
Immediately, everyone stopped chuckling and her older brother frowned in puzzlement.
Then Zissy leaned back and, taking on an oh-so-casual demeanor, she waved her hand as she said, "I mean, what is Ponovezh anyway? Like, who cares about Ponovezh?"
Her brother's eyes widened as if thinking: Why is my little sister suddenly speaking weirdness & kefirah?
Then frowning, he turned to her to say something, but Zissy immediately gave him a big clenched-jaw smile with eyes that clearly said, Nu, big brother, JUST PLAY ALONG WITH ME—got it?
Then she turned back to me with her oh-so-casual demeanor and said, "After all, if my brother wasn't attending Ponovezh, I'd have no idea what it is..."
Now her brother blinked & looked amused. He realized what had happened.
Then the host proceeded to offer a brief explanation of Ponovezh's history (punctuated by remarks from Zissy, like "Oh, wow!" and "Oh, great—I just learned something new!").
Zissy's attempt to lessen my discomfort with such transparent play-acting both amused & touched me deeply.
I also felt secretly gratified that I must look like someone who knew what Ponovezh was—and that a world existed in which Ponovezh mattered while Harvard didn't.
Also, the chuckling hostess was a good friend of mine, a friend who often behaved with exceptional nurturing & sensitivity. We were very comfortable with each other, which is why she felt comfortable chuckling & didn't immediately realize I might not feel equally humored.
A New Dimension of Sensitivity
While growing up in a secular world brought me into contact with compassionate & sensitive secular Jews & non-Jews, the level of these teenage Beis Yaakov girls introduced a whole new dimension of sensitivity toward others.
Both girls completely focused on the discomfort of a stranger—and focused so wholly that they ignored their own kavod (ego, honor) in their mission to save the other's kavod.
In fact, neither seemed to sense her own kavod in their heartfelt attempt to save mine.
And due to their youth & inexperience, they did so with profoundly charming transparency.
It was obvious to everyone (including me) what they were doing, that what they said wasn't true at all.
(Meaning, the first girl never shot food off her plate while Zissy, an excellent student at the finest schools Lakewood & Yerushalayim had to offer, certainly knew all about & held in great esteem Ponovezh yeshivah.)
But as young women who grew up learning how the Mishneh says embarrassment is like killing a person, and how the Chumash & mefarshim show Tamar preferred to die rather than risk embarrassing Yehudah ben Yaakov—young women who took these lessons to heart—they cultivated a whole new dimension of sensitivity toward others.
It's a dimension in which you're willing to downgrade yourself in order to upgrade the other.
And the fact they did so with an obviousness that seemed foolish to others—putting themselves at risk for embarrassment—made it all the more meaningful.
Probably they never even realized how meaningful & exceptional their actions were; they simply acted on their own innate sense of compassion.
It was a beautiful kiddush Hashem on their part.
This was a huge lesson to me: the lengths the Torah inspires us to go in sensitivity to others.
(And also to see how Hashem really does grant parents ruach hakodesh when naming their child—Zissy truly lived up to her name!)
I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
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