Daf Yomi Bava Basra 35
A fellow once came to the Chofetz Chaim and asked the great rabbi for advice. “All my life I’ve enjoyed a good, juicy piece of gossip. People know that I’m the go-to guy if you want to know anything about anybody. But after reading your holy books, I realize the error of my ways. Rebbe, please tell me how I can do teshuvah!”
“Do you have a feather pillow at home?” asked the Chofetz Chaim. The fellow nodded. “Go and take that pillow to Bondi Beach and cut it open. That act of tearing the pillow open will tear open your heart and may your teshuvah be accepted, my child.”
Excited at the prospect of turning his life around with this simple, yet profound act, the man ran home, grabbed a pillow and raced to the beach. He ripped open the pillow and watched with glee as the wind swept the feathers into the air. He then skipped his way back to the Chofetz Chaim and thanked the sage profusely for showing him the way.
“Whoa, slow down,” said the elderly rabbi, “your task is not yet complete. Now I need you to go back to the beach and collect all those feathers and bring them back to me. Then your teshuvah will be complete.”
“But, but, Rebbe,” the fellow stammered, “that’s impossible. How can I retrieve all those feathers? They have long since been swept far, far away by the wind and sea!”
“And that, my dear friend,” responded the Chofetz Chaim, “is the problem of lashon hara. Could you ever possibly take back all the rumors you spread about each and every person over the years?” Hearing these words, the man began sobbing uncontrollably.
Picking him up off the floor, the Chofetz Chaim instructed him, “Think about the feathers every day. Do whatever you can to bring light and joy into people’s lives. And may Hashem show you the way to teshuvah.”
They taught in the yeshiva of Rabbi Chiya: One who steals property over which two people are disputing ownership is not called a thief. Rav Ashi teaches: Of course he is called a thief. What is the meaning of his not being called a thief? That he has no way to return the property to its rightful owner (since it is unclear who the owner is).
Rashbam explains: This matter is akin to the teaching of Rabbi Levi: The punishment for maintaining inaccurate weights and measures is greater than that of illicit relations. For the sin of illicit relations, one can repent. But for the sin of inaccurate measures, one cannot repent. One who does business with inaccurate measures steals from the public and is unable to determine to whom to return his theft.
In a typical survey, if asked to name the key elements of a ‘frum’ (religious) person how do you think most people would respond? Frum means you keep Shabbos, Kosher, Family Purity, you put on tefillin every day. Right?
How about interpersonal behavior? Love thy neighbor. Feed the hungry. Well, yeah, those are also important. But they’re not the main thing. You don’t need to be frum to do those things. Everybody cares about visiting the sick and being nice to strangers.
Listen to what Rabbi Levi teaches: Cheating in business is worse than illicit relations. Why? Because when you engage in intimate physical activity that the Torah doesn’t approve of, it’s terrible. But you can always do teshuvah (repent). If you express your sincere regret to Hashem, He will forgive you and wipe the slate completely clean. But if you engage in improper business practices and you start making a habit of shortchanging people, when you finally decide to mend your ways, how can you find all the people you cheated along the way to pay them back? In other words, no matter how remorseful you are, you can never truly do teshuvah!
The same is true of all our G-d-mitzvos versus our interpersonal mitzvos. So you broke Shabbos. Or you ate something you shouldn’t have. The moment you turn to Hashem and regret your actions, our Father in Heaven forgives you and you’re able to move on, blemish-free. But if you make a habit of acting improperly towards your fellow human beings, are you ever able to find all the broken pieces and pick them up?
That beggar at the traffic light you ignored, where is he today? That neighbor who needed your help mowing the lawn because his wife was sick, where did he say he was moving to? That receptionist you never had time to say hello to each morning, do you think you could you ever find her and apologize? And all the times you just had to share the latest ‘goss’ about people in your community, that bag of feathers, could you ever retrieve?
What makes a frum person? Someone who understands that ALL mitzvos are important. As Rabbi Levi demonstrates, the big ones are not the G-d-mitzvos. Why? Because G-d can get over it when you mess up. The big ones are the people-mitzvos. Because unfortunately most people can’t get over it as easily. Especially the people that are long gone from your life and impossible to make amends with.
So pay close attention to the people-mitzvos. Those mitvos are the gems that are irreplaceable. Think about everyone you come into contact with in your life. The big people. The little people. The nice people. The challenging people. And make every effort to go above and beyond to care for them and make them feel special.
In the eyes of Hashem, all mitzvos are vital. He wants a solid relationship with you. But even more, He wants you to have a wonderful relationship with His other children. May you cherish every mitzvah and love every human being!