by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"... And he shall surely heal him." [21:19]
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, uses this short phrase --
"and he [who injured his fellow man] shall surely heal him" -- to help us
develop an entirely new outlook on interpersonal relations, on our
coexistence with others in this world.
In the Talmud [Bava Kamma 88a], our Sages say, "From here (we learn that)
permission is given to the doctor to heal." Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki,
adds there, "and we do not say that 'G-d made him sick; He will make him
well.'" One who caused an injury must pay the doctor as necessary to heal
the victim, but Rashi begins by accepting as a given that in reality, G-d
was the one who caused the injury, not the human being.
The Chofetz Chaim helps us to look at what Rashi is saying. We see here
that all pain or injury that a person suffers comes directly from G-d. This
is true even when one person hits another! A person cannot hit someone else
unless G-d deems it appropriate for the second person to be hit. Reuven
cannot hit Shimon unless, in the opinion of G-d himself, Shimon "has it
coming." Reuven is involved only because, in the words of our Sages, "bad
things come by way of a deficient person." [The Hebrew idiom is perhaps
lost in translation, but the intent is clear.]
The Torah is telling us that if someone injures me, I will just be wasting
time and energy if I get angry at him. Obviously he is a "deficient
person," and I should consider avoiding him in the future -- but what he
did is his problem. Rather than taking revenge, I have to take stock of my
own actions: why was it appropriate that I be hit?
Forgive me if I insinuate that you, like I, most likely do not live your
life this way. I would be amazed to learn that among the tens of thousands
of readers, more than one or two managed to avoid anger at a person who
wronged him or her. But the evidence is that the Chofetz Chaim did indeed
live life this way.
The Chofetz Chaim was called once to testify in court, and the lawyer
wanted to explain to the court what an honest man the Rabbi was. He said
that once the Chofetz Chaim caught a thief stealing property from his small
home. He pursued the thief, shouting "it's yours! I forgive you!"
The judge looked at the lawyer and asked if he truly believed this amazing
tale. "I'm not certain, your Honor," said the lawyer, "but I do know that
they do not tell such stories about you and me."
Another story is told of a yeshiva student who misbehaved on several
occasions, until the Rosh Yeshiva, or Dean, decided that he would have to
expel him. On his way out, the student decided to take his last parting
shots -- so he stood on the front steps, and while waiting for his ride
home explained in a loud voice exactly what he thought of the yeshiva and
the Dean who stood at its helm.
A few observers noticed that the Rosh Yeshiva himself was standing by a
second story window, not trying to stop the student, but rather listening
carefully. After the student had left, one of these observers asked why he
did not have someone rebuke the student. "Because," he responded, "I knew
that some of what he said might be true. I was listening to see what I
might learn." [I have seen this story recorded in a number of places, but
unfortunately do not recall which yeshiva and which dean were involved.]
Obviously, this is a very high standard of behavior, one which cannot be
reached overnight. Few of us have come close to this level. Nonetheless, it
certainly doesn't hurt to set such a high goal!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.