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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Should you continue to do favours for people who don't reciprocate?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 10


Hillel the Elder was known as the most patient individual on Earth.  One day, young Getzel bets his friend Shloimy four hundred gold coins that he can provoke Hillel to anger.  And so off he goes and stands outside Hillel’s house on Friday afternoon, just as the sage had entered the shower.
“Where is Hillel around here?  Where is Hillel around here?” the man yelled.  Hillel calmly stepped out of the shower, donned his bathrobe and asked the young man how he could help.
“I have an important question to ask,” said the man.
“Certainly, what is your shayla?” inquired Hillel.
The man looked at the sage and asked, “Why do Babylonians have round heads?”
“That’s an excellent question,” replied Hillel, “It’s because they do not have skilled midwives.”

The man departed Hillel’s doorstep, only to return ten minutes later, just as Hillel had stepped back into the shower.
“Where is Hillel around here?  Where is Hillel around here?”
“Yes, my son,” said Hillel, drying his beard, “How can I help you?”
“Why, praytell, are the eyes of Palmyreans weak?” asked the brash young man.
“That’s a very good question,” replied Hillel, “It’s because they live in a sandy area.”

Once again the young man departed, and reappeared ten minutes later.
“Where is Hillel around here?  Where is Hillel around here?”
“Yes, my son, how can I help?” asked the sage.
“Why,” inquired the young man, “do Africans have wide feet?”
“Good question,” said Hillel, “It’s because their region is very damp and fertile.”
Replied the man, “I have many more questions to ask you but I fear lest you become angry at me.”
Said Hillel, “Please, please, ask all the questions you have of me.  I would be happy to answer every one of them!”
“Are you the one they call Hillel, Prince of Israel?” asked the man.
“I am he,” replied Hillel humbly.
“If you are the one,” said the man, “may there not be many like you in Israel!”
“Why do you say that?” asked Hillel surprised.
“Because you have cost me four hundred gold coins!”
“Indeed it is worthwhile,” responded Hillel, “that one lose many times that amount, rather than Hillel ever become impatient!”

Turnus Rufus once asked Rabbi Akiva, ‘If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not support them?
He replied, ‘So that we may be saved through them from the punishment of Gehinnom.’
‘On the contrary,’ said the other, ‘it is this which condemns you to Gehinnom. I will illustrate by a parable.  Suppose an earthly king was angry with his servant and put him in prison and ordered that he should be given no food or drink, and a man went and gave him food and drink. If the king heard, would he not be angry with him?  And you are called “servants,” as it is written, “For unto me the children of Israel are servants.”
Rabbi Akiva answered him, ‘I will illustrate by another parable. Suppose an earthly king was angry with his child, and put him in prison and ordered that no food or drink should be given to him, and someone went and gave him food and drink. If the king heard of it, would he not send him a present? And we are called “children,” as it is written, “You are children to Hashem your G-d.”

When we write a cheque to tzedakah, we generally think of ourselves as the givers, and of the needy person as the recipient.  Rabbi Akiva teaches us that it’s precisely the opposite.  When the poor man sticks out his hand, he is extending you a favour!  With this act of charity, you are being spared spiritual retribution from any of your shortcomings in life! 

So who really gets more out of the transaction, the rich man or the poor man?  Sure, the poor fellow gets some lunch money, but the individual giving the money gets a much greater spiritual reward in return!  When you are asked for tzedakah, you are essentially being presented with an awesome opportunity to be blessed in this world and the next!

That’s the attitude we should have when it comes to any ‘favours’ we do for others.  Stop viewing yourself as the munificent one; start appreciating the wonderful opportunity this person is presenting you with!  Yes, that can be challenging at times, especially when you think the other person isn’t reciprocating.  Or you have ‘good’ personal reasons not to lend a hand.  But it’s well worth the effort of doing the 180 in your head!

Maybe a friend has asked you to watch their kids, and you think ‘I can’t believe they’re asking me! What have they done for me lately?’  Maybe someone’s asked you for a ride to a simcha (event), and you think, ‘I was looking forward to spending that drive-time talking to my spouse that I haven’t seen all day!’  Maybe you finally sat down over a cup of coffee and a newspaper, and you’re interrupted by someone who wants you to listen to their issues. 

Yes, it’s hard to say yes.  But stop and ask yourself: Could this be Hashem sending me a message and an opportunity?  Am I going to jump at it or let it go?  Am I going to do it with all my heart or half-heartedly?  Don’t be externally agreeable, while you’re really kvetching on the inside.  And stop thinking of yourself as a hero.  You’re just rising to the challenge and grabbing the Heavenly opportunity!

As much as you’re doing them a favour, they’re doing you a much bigger favour!  Instead of grumbling over your inability to say ‘no,’ you should be thanking them for bringing this opportunity your way!  That was Hillel the Elder’s approach in life – if Hashem sent this impudent inquirer his way, it was an opportunity to meet the Heavenly challenge to his patience!


Far greater than any physical favour you will perform today is the spiritual reward you will receive for that act.  May you embrace every opportunity to help another individual, be it financially, psychologically, physically, or spiritually!