Daf Yomi Yevamos 21
There’s a classic story of the teacher who wants to teach his students a lesson about the dangers of gossip. He takes them outside on a windy day and opens up a down-filled pillow. The feathers are immediately swept up by the wind and scattered far and wide.
“Your project for today,” says the teacher, “is to go and pick up all the feathers.”
“But that’s impossible!” the students respond.
“Ah hah!” replies the teacher. “That’s the danger of gossip. Once you let the feathers of gossip out of the bag, you can no longer control what happens to them and you have no idea where they will end up.”
Concerning the maintenance of correct measures in business, such as scales for produce in a grocery store, the Torah states, “You shall not have in your bag diverse weights, great and small. You shall not have in your house diverse measures, great and small. A perfect and just weight shall you have; a perfect and just measure shall you have; that your days may be long upon the land which Hashem your God gives you.”
Rabbi Levi taught: The punishment for incorrect measures (middos) is harsher than the punishment for illicit sexual relationships. What makes it worse? Once can repent for the sins of illicit relationships; one cannot repent for the sins of measures.
Rashi explains: With regards to most illicit relationships, all one needs to do is to stop the relationship and repent before G-d. However, when one has sinned with improper measures, he has stolen from the public and has no idea whom to pay back his ill-gotten gains.
In Hebrew, the word for measures is middos. The same word is used for character traits. The deeper message of the Talmud here is that we must be so careful when it comes to our character and its expression in terms of our relationships with others.
Gossip is but one example of the feathers that fly about that you can’t bring back. The same is true of any bad character trait. When you treat people with contempt or disdain or a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, can you ever rectify that? We spend a lifetime working on ourselves but even once you’ve recognized and perfected a character flaw, how do you then go about saying sorry to everyone you’ve ever acted inappropriately towards? It’s so important to work on your middos sooner than later! The more you clean up your act today, the less feathers that will be floating about that you can never truly repent for!
Nobody is born perfect. Some of us have greater challenges than others when it comes to character imperfections, but everyone needs to work on themselves. Start looking inside and see which part of you needs fixing. The more you learn to master your middos, the happier you and those around you will be, and the less feathers you’ll need to go chasing after later!