The Price of a Rope

It was the night of Yom Kippur, and a large crowd, including many talmidei chachamim, was gathered in the beis medrash of Harav Meir of Premishlan, zy”a. The time at which davening was scheduled to begin had come and gone with no sign of the Rebbe, and many of those present were distressed at the delay. Finally, the Rebbe arrived. He stood in the doorway of the shul and looked at the assembled.

“You all gathered thinking that Meir will say Kol Nidrei,” the Rebbe addressed them. As was his custom, he spoke of himself in third person. “Even if you will stand until morning, Meir will not say Kol Nidrei.”

The Rebbe subsequently explained his intentions.

“Yom Kippur is mechaper the sins between man and the Omnipresent, but the sins bein adam lachaveiro aren’t forgiven until one seeks forgiveness. Therefore, Meir wants you to forgive each other.”

The assembled began to shout, “We forgive!”

But the Rebbe remained in the doorway and once again addressed the gathered.

“You think that Meir doesn’t understand anything. Now you are saying that you forgive each other, but after Yom Kippur, if someone owes another a debt, the lender will take whatever he can from him, even his pillows and blankets. What Meir wants is that whoever has the ability to pay his debts but can’t right now, should be given more time to do so.

“And he who doesn’t have the ability to pay [at all],” the Rebbe then added, “what [are you going to do to him], take away his soul?”

Present in the shul were several wealthy men from Lvov, who realized that the Rebbe was referring to them. They approached the Rebbe and promised to comply with his request, and Kol Nidrei was begun.

• •

As Jews throughout the world prepare for Yom Kippur 5776, many grapple with the knowledge that they are about to enter the holiest day of the year while their hearts are filled with hurt and anger against a fellow Jew.

How can I possibly forgive him after he did me such irreparable harm? How can I possibly erase the pain he caused and move on when the pain is so great? He didn’t even try to seek forgiveness for all he has done! If I forgive him now, chances are he will continue to act that way to me in the future. …

These and a myriad of similar thoughts race through a person’s mind, urging him to reject the notion of using the singular opportunity of being inspired by Yom Kippur to forgive those who have wronged him.

It may be helpful to consider the following teaching of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, zy”a.

A very wealthy businessman purchased a magnificent chandelier and connected it to a special machine that allowed him to raise and lower it as he wished. One day a pauper walked into the mansion and noticed the sturdy rope that connected the chandelier to the machine.  Using a pocket knife, he sliced into the rope and cut himself a piece. Moments later, a powerful crash was heard throughout the first floor of the palace. The spectacular chandelier had fallen to the ground, smashed to smithereens.

After determining what had occurred, the owner said he would seize only the hat of the pauper — which was worth a mere fraction of the financial damages he had caused. When asked, the owner explained that since the pauper didn’t realize the consequences his action would cause to the chandelier, he should only have to pay for the piece of rope he stole.

With this parable, the Ruzhiner explained a passuk in Tehillim (62:13): “And Yours, Hashem, is kindness, for You reward each man in accordance with his deeds.”

So much is dependent on the actions of a Yid. When he performs a mitzvah, he lights up the Heavens. When he commits a transgression, he causes enormous danger to upper spiritual spheres.

In His infinite mercy, Hashem doesn’t force him to “pay” for the extent of the damage he actually causes, something he had no concept of and certainly didn’t intend to do. Instead, like the pauper and the rope, he only is punished for his “deeds” — for the degree of fleeting enjoyment he had from his transgression.

The same concept can be applied to interpersonal relationships. In virtually all situations, the intent of the individual who caused great anguish wasn’t to inflict emotional pain. In his own mind, he likely sees himself as the victim who is merely defending his own rights, or for a host of unrelated reasons is disconnected from the reality. Even if he is clearly told that his actions are hurtful, he is too wrapped up in thinking of himself for it to register.

When it comes to ensuring that our own words and actions aren’t causing pain to others, we must always bear in mind the extreme gravity of the matter. But when it comes to the pain others inflict on us, let us seek to emulate the Ribbono shel Olam and judge those who have pained us according to their intentions and not the shattered heart that resulted from their actions.

Let us remember that only a year ago we pleaded for forgiveness from Hashem and we were forgiven — and yet somehow in the year that passed we all made mistakes and slipped up again. Relying on the fact that Hashem, in His infinite mercy, extends forgiveness year after year, we are pleading once more for forgiveness.

Certainly, by finding room in our hearts to forgive others — even those who haven’t seen fit to reach out to us — we will arouse great zechuyos for all of Klal Yisrael.