Letting Go

The shepherd, entrusted with guarding a large flock, was on duty when he dozed off. A loud howl woke him, and as he jumped to his feet he saw a wolf pouncing on a defenseless sheep. The shepherd pulled out a sharp knife and quickly made his way to the scene of the attack. Sensing the approach of a human, the wolf abandoned his prey and began to run, with the shepherd in hot pursuit.

The man succeeded in grabbing on to the wolf’s tail, yet the animal continued to run, with the shepherd running right behind him. It soon became apparent that the wolf was much fitter than the human for this physical exertion. Drained and exhausted, the shepherd could run no further — yet he clung to the tail of the animal. The wolf, however, ran on, dragging the hapless shepherd along. Soon the shepherd lost his shoes, and the stones and hard ground battered his feet until they bled.

As the unlikely pair approached the nearby town, the residents looked in wonder at the strange sight.

The shepherd cried for help. “Merciful Jews, rateve, save me,” he wept. “Don’t you see what is happening here? Save me!”

The onlookers were at a loss how to respond until one wise man took stock of the situation.

“Let go of the shvantz — the tail!” he told the shepherd. “Open your hand and let go, and all will be well!”

***

Harav God’l Eisner, zt”l, the legendary Mashgiach in Yeshivas Chiddushei Harim, used this parable to illustrate what teshuvah is all about. But this same scenario can equally depict a person’s enduring fury about painful acts of the past that continue to fuel the fire of machlokes in the present.

All too often, we are so consumed with precisely how and to what extent another party caused us anguish “back then” that we fail to realize that, in essence, the distress we are experiencing now is, to a large part, our own doing. For while we usually have no control over what others do to us, how long and to what degree we allow hurt and anger to fester in our hearts is up to us.

As we mourn the Beis Hamikdash that was destroyed by machlokes and sinas chinam, it is a most opportune time to let go of the shvantz that is destroying us from within, and fill our hearts with ahavas chinam.

Let us not delude ourselves: In nearly every conflict, both sides point an accusatory finger at the other. Each accuses his opponent of instigating the dispute. The evil inclination goes to great lengths to ensure that the waging parties never have a chance to reflect on the reality of the situation and realize that no one ever gains from engaging in machlokes. Often, sorely misguided outsiders add fuel to the fire by passing on hurtful comments, urging against compromise and otherwise offering their “support” to the conflict. At the time, the feuding parties may delude themselves into thinking that these individuals are loyal friends while those urging peace are uncaring individuals who fail to realize the gravity of hurt and anguish. But in reality, the precise opposite is true.

Few things in life are as harmful as machlokes, and peace is the conduit for happiness and prosperity.

The Bnei Yissaschar (Agra D’Kallah, Parashas Korach) states that even when one is in all respects worthy of a bounty of blessings, if he engages in machlokes he does not have a vessel in which to contain the brachah. His vessel is effectively riddled with holes; no matter how many wonderful things are poured into it, the vessel will remain empty because everything leaks right out.

It is ironic that far too often machlokes erupts because of financial differences. A person thinks that through waging a fierce battle he might recoup what he feels is rightfully his. The tragic irony is that he fails to realize what Chazal teach us: that one machlokes can drive away a hundred livelihoods.

Each day in davening we say hasam gevulech shalom — “He makes your borders peaceful — and [therefore] with the cream of wheat he satiates you.”

The Chasam Sofer explains this passuk by saying that every person has a limit or a “border” to his wisdom. One person may be pushed past his border by jealousy, which can cause him to start acting irrational. For another, a love for money can cause him to lose his sechel. For still others it is the pursuit of kavod.

For the tzaddik who controls his desires and impulses, pursuit of peace is his “border” and he doesn’t allow anything to push him past it. When he realizes that doing what appears to be the “wise” thing will cause machlokes, he declares, “I’d rather be a fool all my life than be involved in machlokes.”

Parnassah is pre-ordained and one needs great zechuyos to be able to change the amount that is coming to him; but a person who makes peace his “border” deserves this distinction and merits to be satiated with the “cream of wheat,” i.e., plentiful parnassah.

***

It takes a great amount of fortitude and heroism for an individual who sees himself — often for very valid reasons — as the aggrieved party, to take the plunge and reach out to the other side and make peace. At a time when Am Yisrael is in such desperate need of zechuyos, this is a perfect time to declare that “I’d rather be a fool all my life than be involved in machlokes.” This is an ideal time to let go of the pain of the past, and make a dramatic and concrete declaration of ahavas chinam.