Dealing with Adversity – The Compassionate Merit Compassion

 A Rebbi in a certain yeshivah had a talmid who started to bind sefarim to obtain some spending money. Since he was not yet established in the field, he needed sefarim to bind to gain experi­ence in this skill, and also so word would spread that he was available to provide this service. The Rebbi owned a Mishnah Berurah in one thick volume which he gave his talmid to bind. The bachur found it hard to position the drill well and made too many holes. The result was a job not well done. This tzaddik nevertheless told him, “It came out so beautifully! So what if it has a few extra holes!” The talmid recalls this chessed many years later and still finds it remarkable.

The Gemara in Yevamos (79a) states: “There are three signs for this nation — they are rachmanim, merciful; bayshanim, have a sense of shame; and are gomlei chassadim, perform acts of kindness.”

Rachmanus is one of the three signs which characterize a Yid. It is a quality that propels us to assist others in dealing with situations of dif­ficulty or misfortune. Our mindset is not that of many in the secular world: “I, me and myself.” Such people cannot place themselves in some­one else’s shoes, and grasp their pain.

Harav Eliyahu Chaim Meisels, zt”l, the Rav of Lodz, appeared one freezing winter night at the palatial home of a rich man in the community to raise money for the poor.

The butler who answered the door asked Rav Meisels to come inside and said his master would appear presently. Rav Meisels replied, “I request that he come to the door.”

Finding the Rav standing in the frigid weath­er, the baal habayis said. “Rebbi, please come inside where it is warm and partake of a hot tea!

The Rav persisted, “I prefer to speak right here. And I don’t wish to sully your home with my wet boots!” The Rav described the plight of the indigent as the householder’s teeth chattered. “I need firewood for these families,” he concluded and finally agreed to enter the house.

The host committed himself to providing the funds and then asked, “But why did the Rav make me stand outside?”

“I wanted you to personally experience what the poor have to deal with,” said Rav Meisels.


Yet, the recipient is not only the beneficiary of this type of compassion. The giver benefits as well. The Gemara in Shabbos (151b) relates that Rabi Chiya instructed his wife to be quick to assist the poor who came to their door, add­ing that by doing so, others would assist their children if and when they would be in need. He explained that there is a concept of a galgal shechozer baolam — that destitution is a revolv­ing wheel in which the well-to-do can become poor and vice-versa. The Gemara continues, “Kol hamerachem al habrios, merachamin alav min haShamayim — Whoever is compassion­ate toward people is shown compassion from Heaven. Conversely, whoever is not compas­sionate toward people is not shown compassion from Heaven. In other words, by helping others deal with difficult situations we ourselves stand to benefit.


How does one avoid getting influenced by the secular attitude of “I, me and myself”? This week’s parashah, Shemini, which discusses the laws of kashrus, alludes to the answer. Included in these directives is an injunction not to eat sheratzim (crawling creatures): “Do not make your souls abominable by means of any creeping thing … lest you become impure through them (v’nitmeisem bam) (Vayikra 11:43). Based on these pesukim, Maseches Yoma 39a explains that v’nitmeisem should be understood as v’nitamtem — “lest you become obstructed” and Rashi com­ments that the result is that this sense of impurity “obstructs one from all wisdom.” Consumption of nonkosher food causes timtum halev, which means, loosely, a sense of spiritual pollution of the heart, a lack of spiritual sensitivity and ardor.


The galgal shechozer can take various forms. Harav Emanuel Feldman, shlita, who served as Rav in Atlanta for 39 years, recalls two men, Mordechai and Max (not real names), who came daily to shul’s minyan. Mordechai spent every spare moment when he was not at work learning Torah. Max was the most illiterate Jew in town. Yet, when some men occasionally mocked Max for his ignorance Mordechai would defend him. “Leave him alone. He never had the opportunity to learn. It’s not his fault.” Years later, both found themselves as roommates in the local Jewish nursing home. Max, who was in better health than Mordechai, would care for his needs, bring him snacks and help him get dressed.

May we always merit to serve in the capacity of the giver.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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