Avremel was a recently married student of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. One day he approaches the rabbi complaining of marriage problems.
“Rebbe, we’re having issues. She wants to me to take out the rubbish.”
“Nu, so what’s the problem?” Rabbi Auerbach inquired of the young man.
“Well, I’m a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) and I think it’s a little beneath me to be dealing with the rubbish.”
“You certainly make a good point,” agreed the rabbi, “if you feel it’s beneath your dignity, you shouldn’t do it.” Happy that his teacher understood him, the fellow returns home to let his wife know that Rabbi Auerbach had agreed with his position.
The next morning at 6:00am, the doorbell rings. Still in his pyjamas, Avremel opens the door to find Rabbi Auerbach standing on the doorstep.
“Rebbe! What’s going on? Is there some kind of emergency at the yeshiva?”
“No, no emergency, Baruch Hashem,” replies the teacher, “I’m here to take out your rubbish. I understand that you feel it’s beneath your dignity to take it out. But somebody’s got to do it!”
Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakana’s students asked him, “How did you lengthen your days?”
He replied, “I never sought honour at the expense of anyone else; the curse of others did not come upon my bed; and I was liberal with my money.”
The Gemara explains each of these three qualities. What is the meaning of “I never sought honour at the expense of anyone else?” It is like the time Rabbi Huna was carrying a spade on his shoulders. Rabbi Chona bar Chanilai entered and offered to carry it for him.
Rabbi Huna said to him, “If you regularly shlep such items back home, then by all means, carry it. But if not, it is not appropriate that I should be honoured via your degradation.”
“The curse of others did not come upon my bed” may be understood with reference to Mar Zutra. Before he would lay down to sleep, he would say, “I hereby forgive all who troubled me today.”
“And I was liberal with my money,” as Mar taught, “Job was liberal with his money, for he would leave a tip for service with every merchant.”
What’s the secret of a long life? We’ve discussed previously that length of days is more meaningful than length of years. We don’t know how long Rabbi Nechunya physically lived but here he teaches us how he lengthened his days – what made each day exciting, invigorating and alive.
Firstly, he never felt that any task was beneath his dignity. When you view every other human being as tzelem Elokim – created in the image of G-d – how could you ever feel your dignity is any greater than anyone other person’s? That attitude is so enriching. Suddenly greeting your garbage collector is just as meaningful as greeting the president! Everyone is noble and therefore a pleasure and honour to interact with.
Secondly, he would never go to bed angry. Many married couples are familiar with this technique, but how many of us utilize the method for all our relationships and interactions? Imagine how different your life would be if you never went to bed upset with anyone! Often our lives are bogged down with unresolved conflict, but if you could dispose of those issues each night, your life would be completely refreshed and reinvigorated! Before you go to bed tonight, forgive anyone who might have wronged you!
Thirdly, he would always leave a tip. Leaving a tip tells the serviceperson that you really appreciate their service. You appreciate their human touch and you appreciate them. A tip is not about the money, it’s about showing the other person that you appreciate them as fellow human beings. It’s a morale boost.
And Rabbi Nechunya saw giving a tip as an expression of being liberal with his money. When you understand that your money comes from the Almighty and has been given to you to make this world physically and emotionally a better place, you realize that there’s no point being stingy. G-d wants you to make others happy and He doesn’t want you to fret over it. Tip-giving is a great way to train yourself in recognizing that all your physical possessions come from His bounty which He wants you to share. The freer you are with your gift-giving the less stressful life will be for you.
Rabbi Nechunya’s secret to a happy life was treating everyone with dignity, never becoming aggravated by anyone and not stressing out over money. That’s how he lengthened his days.
Stop stressing out over your honour. Stop stressing out over your finances. The more you treat others with dignity and the more you share G-d’s bounty with all, the happier you will be!