Taking the Long View

Harav Efraim Zalman Margulies, zt”l, the author of the Beis Efraim, was in the middle of eating a meal when a precious crystal vessel fell and shattered into slivers. Rav Efraim Zalman’s wife was deeply anguished over the loss of this valuable possession, but to her surprise, her husband exhibited no sign of distress at all.

When she asked him about his lack of reaction, he replied, “Ask me about it in a year.”

A year later, she remembered to pose the question again.

“Does the loss of this object still bother you now?” he asked his wife.

“Now that a year has passed, it doesn’t bother me so much anymore,” she admitted.

“Your father took me as a son-in-law because, baruch Hashem, I am able to grasp complex matters [in learning] very quickly,” Harav Efraim Zalman told her. “I am grateful to Hashem that when the crystal piece broke, during the course of a moment, it was in my eyes as if a full year had passed, so I didn’t feel distress over it…”

When dealing with losses or various other types of anguish-causing occurrences, the pain eases with the passage of time. As this story indicates, looking at the matter initially from a long-term perspective can be extremely helpful in coping with one’s feelings.

However, when the distress is due to the actions or words of another person, the hurt and the ensuing conflict can linger on for months, years, and even decades. For it isn’t the pain of the actual deed that lasts so long, but rather the emotions caused by the slight — whether real or perceived.

In this week’s parashah, Parashas Kedoshim, the Torah teaches us numerous mitzvos regarding our relationships with others. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart … You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge … You shall love your fellow as yourself…”

When an individual is grappling with the pain caused by the actions or words of another, the application of these mitzvos can be a great nisayon. The following may be of help.

Avraham ben Avraham, the famed ger tzedek of Vilna, Hy”d, was the son of the Graf Potocki, a noble who was considered the wealthiest man in Poland. After a Jewish tailor informed on Avraham ben Avraham to the authorities, he was arrested and tortured by the local priests and, when he steadfastly refused to reject his Yiddishkeit, he was sentenced to death. Before the ger tzedek was tied to a stake and burnt al Kiddush Hashem, the tailor came to him and begged him not to take revenge on him in the World to Come.

The ger tzedek replied with a parable:

A young prince was once playing with his friends and erected a castle made of sand. One of his playmates then wrecked the castle. The little prince wept bitterly and vowed revenge on the perpetrator.

Years passed, and the now-grown prince succeeded his father as king. The former playmate recalled the vow of revenge and came to the newly-crowned king, shaking with fear, and pleaded for forgiveness.

The king laughed at him. “Fool! Do you think that I remained a small child that I remember my sand castle?”

The ger tzedek then applied the same explanation to his own situation. “I am about to be killed al Kiddush Hashem. The Gemara (Pesachim 50a) states that harugei malchus merit such a lofty place in Gan Eden that no angel can even be in their presence.

“Do you think that I will contemplate from that place the destruction of my ‘sand castle’ — the burning of my earthly body?”

We can’t fathom the enormity of the nisayon faced by the ger tzedek, nor of the heroic greatness he exhibited during those fateful moments. But his message is very applicable to all of us.

The Kli Yakar, in his commentary on the prohibition of lo sikom — of not taking revenge — explains that what is considered to be valid reason for deeply hurt feelings in the temporal world is viewed as child’s play in Shamayim.

The pain may be very real — and certainly one should go to great lengths to avoid causing any sort of agmas nefesh to another person. But one who is on the receiving end of insults or slights must try to downplay the matter as much as possible and view it through a wider, global lens. In every conflict, with some creativity, ingenuity, and a sincere effort at being dan l’chaf zechus, the smoldering destructive fires of machlokes can be extinguished in a timely manner, and be replaced with the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael.