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Monday, 23 January 2017

Who are you looking at?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 2

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was once walking along the street on Erev Yom Kippur when he passed a fellow from shul.  The man had a terrible look of consternation upon his face.
“Good Yom Tov, Reb Yid!” said the rabbi.  There was no reply.
A little louder this time, Rabbi Salanter exclaimed, “Good Yom Tov!”  Still nothing.
“What’s the matter, my friend?” asked the rabbi.
“Why, it’s Yom Kippur tonight!  I’m in a state of introspection and atonement!” said the man.
“I see,” replied the rabbi, “that may be so, but just because you’re doing teshuvah, why must everyone else suffer?”

Rabbi Aba quoted Rav Huna who quoted Rav: A person is forbidden to stand in his friend’s field while the crops are standing. 
Rashi explains: So that he does not do it damage with an evil eye.

It can be very stressful to raise the perfect crop, to get it cut at just the right moment, to collect it all without ruining any of the pieces.  To have someone standing there watching while the farmer does all that isn’t helpful.  He’s thinking to himself, ‘What does this guy want?  Why is he standing there, watching me?  Is he plotting something?  Are there people out there jealous of my success?’

Now the truth is you might be standing near the field and admiring your neighbour’s farming prowess and getting some good ideas about how to grow your own crop.  But it doesn’t matter what’s going on inside your head; the issue is what the other fellow might be thinking.  And so Rav says, don’t even let him suspect that you have untoward motives.  If he’s there working hard to make a living, he’s under enough stress as it is, without his mind going wild about what other people might be thinking.

You see, it’s not just about saying the right thing or doing the right thing for people; it’s about thinking to yourself whether you might be stressing them out without even saying or doing anything at all!  Simply by being in their presence when they need their alone time, or passing them in the street with an expressionless face, what effect are you having?  You need to make sure that whatever you’re doing – as harmless as your intentions – you’re not causing anyone else any unnecessary stress.

You too might be dealing with stresses in your life, whether self-imposed or beyond your control.  Rabbi Salanter’s point to the fellow engrossed in teshuvah on Erev Yom Kippur was that just because Hashem gave you a measure of discomfort in your life, it’s no mitzvah to share it with everyone else around you!  Rabbi Yitz Wyne adds the following wonderful aphorism from Rav Noach Weinberg: No matter how you feel on the inside, your face is public property!

Before you show up, think about whether your friends wants you there at the moment.  When you’re in the company of others, ask yourself whether you’re brightening up the room or casting a shadow.  May your presence always be a source of comfort, joy, and pleasure to all around you! 

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