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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Stop being a martyr for others

Daf Yomi Gittin 14

King David’s son, Amnon, was a wicked young man, filled with lust and desire.  One day, he set his eyes upon his half-sister, Tamar and concocts a plan to be with her.  Feigning illness, he tells his father that it would be helpful if Tamar could come over and prepare a meal for him in his presence.   

Being the sweet and good girl she was, she was happy to do whatever she could to help, and readily agreed to Amnon’s strange request.  She gets to his house and begins to knead the dough, when he suddenly orders everyone else to leave the room.   He then takes hold of her, and bars her escape.  Despite her cries for mercy, he proceeds to take advantage of her.  Her brother Avshalom hears about this terrible act, and ultimately wreaks fatal revenge upon his half-brother. 

Rabbi Achi the son of Rabbi Yoshiya had a silver goblet in Nehardea.  He said to Rabbi Dosethai the son of Rabbi Yannai and to Rabbi Yossi bar Kifar who were going there: When you come back from there, bring it with you. They went and got it from the people who had it.
They said to them, ‘Give us a release from liability for damages that may occur during your journey.’
They said, ‘No.’
‘Then give it back,’ they said. Rabbi Dosethai the son of Rabbi Yannai was willing, but Rabbi Yossi bar Kifar refused.
They gave him a thrashing and said to Rabbi Dosethai, ‘See what your friend is doing.’
He replied: ‘Thrash him well.’

When they returned to Rabbi Achi, Rabbi Yossi said, ‘Look, sir, not only did he not assist me, but he said to them:  Thrash him well!’
He said to Rabbi Dosethai, ‘Why did you do so?’
He replied, ‘Those people were like posts, and their hats as tall as themselves. Their voices come from the deep, and their names are outlandish — Arda and Arta and Pili at their head. If they give the order to arrest, you are arrested; to kill, you are killed. If they had killed Dosethai, who would have given Yannai my father a son like me?’
‘Have these men,’ he asked, ‘influence with the government?’
‘Yes,’ he replied.
‘Have they a retinue mounted on horses and mules?’
‘If that is so,’ he said, ‘you acted correctly.’

Rabbi Achi asked his friends, Rabbi Dosethai and Rabbi Yossi, to do him a favour and bring back his silver goblet.  The people handed it over but then wanted the rabbis to personally guarantee its safe passage, which they were not prepared to do.  What if something happened along the way, such as a robbery or storm?  They did not want to be held personally responsible.  And so the people told them to give it back.  Rabbi Dosethai agreed, but Rabbi Yossi refused.  And so they proceeded to beat him up.

Why didn’t he just give it back?  Because he wanted to do Rabbi Achi the favour he had promised him of bringing it home.  And so even when they were beating him up, he obstinately refused to hand it over.   Finally, they arrive at Rabbi Achi and what does he tell them?  ‘Rabbi Dosethai, you did the right thing!’  Imagine how crushed Rabbi Yossi must have felt.  He had suffered blows at the hands of ruffians for the sake of doing a favour for his friend; and now he didn’t even appreciate it?!

Rabbi Achi is teaching us that while we must strive to help other people, everything has a limit.  Nobody expects you to be a martyr.  If assisting others means you will end up suffering abuse, don’t do it!

Certainly, the story of Amnon and Tamar is an extreme instance of a person who has gone out of their own way to help another, only to suffer terrible abuse at their wicked hands.  But on a simpler level, many people think that they are helping others, only to be abused by them. 

You might have a ‘friend’ that you are always there for, but never reciprocates; or even worse, fails to show appreciation for all your efforts.  That’s abuse.  And sometimes you just have to know when to close that door in your life and find relationships that are two-way streets or at least friendships where the other person demonstrates gratitude for all you do.

Or perhaps it’s a family member.  We have a duty to honour our parents; but let’s say you have an elderly parent you are caring for who is acting abusively.  According to Shulchan Aruch, you don’t have to suffer the abuse.  You can hire someone to take care of your parent or delegate it to a friend whom they will not treat with disrespect.

Maybe it’s your child who is abusing you.  Sometimes as parents we believe that we have a lifelong duty to our children, despite whatever disrespect or ingratitude we are receiving in return.  But that’s not true; nowhere does it say you must suffer abuse at the hands of your children just because you brought them into the world. 

Or maybe it’s a spouse who is taking advantage of the marriage relationship.  When you uttered your ‘wedding vows’ – in Judaism, we don’t actually say anything like that, but certainly we make a commitment to one another – you never signed up for psychological or emotional abuse at the hands of an ungrateful or disrespectful spouse.

There are only three mitzvos in Judaism that call for martyrdom; helping people isn’t one of them.  If you are bending over backwards for others and receiving abuse in return, it’s time to voice your concerns and repair the relationship.  May you merit loving two-way street relationships throughout your life!