Mind Your Own Business

The secular world advises a father-in-law and certainly a mother-in-law to hold their tongues when they see their children making  mistakes. “Let them learn from their own mistakes,” we are admonished. “Don’t mix in.”

Although in many circumstances this advice is valid, we find in this week’s parashah (Shemos 18:17) that Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro says to his son-in-law, “Lo tov hadavar asher atah oseh — What you are doing is not good.” Yisro felt the responsibility to criticize Moshe Rabbeinu.  Even more importantly, he felt the achrayus to offer suggestions on how to correct it.

What is even more telling is the reaction of Moshe. “Va’yishma Moshe l’kol chosno; Vaya’as kol asher amar (Shemos 18:24) — Moshe listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he said.”

“Mind your own business,” it seems, is not a Torah attitude.

On the contrary, we have a mitzvah of tochachah — to explain, in a pleasant way, to our friends and neighbors the mistakes that they are making and to suggest ways to improve. It is a wise man who hears criticism and accepts it graciously and gratefully.

This came to mind as I heard the story from Doron Tvyyg, a farmer in Azaryeh. When his father-in-law died in America, a year and a half ago, the family divided the studying of Mishnayos in his memory. When Doron received Mishnayos Sheviis, his wife told him that it is a sign that Hashem wants them to keep Shemittah k’halachah. On Rosh Hashanah 5774, she told Doron that he had a year to prepare. Doron accepted the challenge, but unfortunately was so busy with his labor-intensive occupation that he arrived on the doorstep of this year’s Shemittah completely unprepared.

The mashal is often given of a preparation for Shabbos. If someone never experienced a Shabbos and just learns the halachos, he would think that Shabbos is the worst day in the week. He would imagine that you sit in a cold room without doing anything for 25 hours and eat cold food.

We know, however, that the opposite is true.

Shabbos is, even from the standpoint of gashmiyus, by far the best day of the week. The reason is that mi shetorach b’Erev Shabbos yochal b’Shabbos — If you prepare properly on Friday, you’ll eat well on Shabbos.” The same is true about Shemittah. If you prepare properly there are many things that you can do to make the Shemittah year the best one in the calendar.

Doron didn’t.

In fact, he had signed a million-shekel contract with a salad company to provide them with vegetables, he planted his hothouses with eggplant after Rosh Hashanah and he didn’t get around to harvesting his cabbage before Shemittah so had many tons of cabbage that he is not permitted to sell. He told his wife that he’s sorry but at this point it is impossible and they would have to rely on heter mechirah.

What happened next is a worthwhile message to all of us.

After Rosh Hashanah, a group of yungeleit was in his area picking grapes from a vineyard to make wine. Doron met them and started a conversation. When one of the yungeleit found out that Doron is a farmer he asked him if he’s keeping Shemittah k’halachah. When Doron explained that he wanted to but it is too late, the yungerman said to him, “For two thousand years, we were praying to return to Eretz Yisrael and keep the mitzvos that are tied to the land and especially Shemittah which is given as the reason that the land was taken from us. You, Doron, are a farmer and have the ability and the zechus to do what our Forefathers would have sacrificed everything to do and you’re giving up that opportunity?”

Doron told me that the tochachah was like a dagger in his heart.

“You’re right,” he said, and put a call in to the Keren Hashviis. The local field coordinator met with him and discussed what he would have to do and how much they could be of help. With tears of joy and pain in his eyes, Doron explained how he cancelled his million-shekel contract, asked Keren Hashviis to distribute hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cabbages to the poor and instruct his Thai workers exactly what needed to be done with the eggplant in terms of adhering to the protocols of Hilchos Shemittah.

I envy the zechus of Doron Tvyyg. Not only that. I also envy the zechus of the yungeleit who did not “mind their own business.”


The author can be contacted at rabbisbloom@gmail.com