We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Bring someone else into an ahavas yisrael goal or project you are working on.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
Perek Aleph, Mishna Aleph Part 3
V’Asu Siyag LaTorah – And Make a Fence Around the Torah
Story: (based on a true story)
I’m a complainer. It’s a problem that I’ve been trying to combat for much of my life. I call it my version of ‘foot-in-mouth disease’, though it’s not that I accidentally say the wrong thing; it’s that I talk when I shouldn’t, and negative words tend to come out.
I like to think I’m a nice person, and in general I think people would agree, but when I get frustrated, sometimes I end up saying what I think. Like last spring, when my kids’ dentist cancelled their appointments that I had made months in advance because a conference she was speaking at got moved. That was the only day I could bring them all at once for the next few months, and it was only a week beforehand, and I was annoyed. So instead of saying, “Thank you for telling me” and hanging up and crying into my calendar, I spent the next five minutes complaining to the receptionist about how this really wasn’t right and what was I supposed to do and what did she mean there were no triple appointments available until late summer? She had nothing to do with it, and it helped nobody for me to ramble on, but I needed someone to hear me. Basically, I shot the messenger. And there was probably some lashon hara mixed in there too.
And there was the time the leasing company refused to give me a time frame smaller than five hours to inspect the car and the appliance company did the same for fixing my washer. The insurance company restarted my deductible mid-year and the phone company tried to get me to change the type of phone service I have instead of uncrossing my phone line that I was currently sharing with my neighbor, olden-days style, because they had botched this simple repair. Each of those people on the other end of the line received an earful of why I was annoyed and what was wrong with the whole system and where they personally might be at fault.
Sometimes my husband walks in when I’m on a call like that. He always stops me and says, “Let it go.” Then I do what I should have done in the first place: hang up and figure out what I’m going to do about the situation. I call back later if necessary, but without him, I just talk, until the other person has heard enough and hangs up on me. I then spend the next few minutes indignant, followed by the rest of the day kicking myself for doing it again and wondering what negative things the employee is thinking about me.
Then, last spring, I got a call from an administrator at my kid’s school. Apparently, my daughter Shaina was not ready for first grade and would have to repeat her final pre-school year. Oh, was I upset. And oh, did I speak to her for almost an hour but not about technical, what-comes-next things. It was all about how hard it would be for Shaina, and how would she cope, and why was this happening, and why can’t we just move her on with some extra help. All possibly important and productive issues if it weren’t for the fact that I was just complaining. Add on some good old fashioned blame for the administrator and some non-productive negative talk about the teacher and the school system, and you have a big ball of useless negativity toward another Jew.
When I finally hung up, I knew I had to tackle my problem. What I said to other people belonged only in my head, if anywhere. It made the people I spoke to feel alternately attacked and bad that they couldn’t help more, it targeted some people who were only messengers, it took up people’s time, it often involved lashon hara, and it may have caused a few chillul HaShems. But what to do? Each time I spoke to someone after they had given me bad news, I spiraled.
A few days later, I was watching the kids and Gavi came over and grabbed two pieces off of Shaina’s game. She immediately got up to run after him and grab it back, a move that usually got her clocked on the head with whatever Gavi was holding and started a screaming fit that sent them both to their rooms. In the instant that she stood up, I went over to her and stilled her, saying, “Stop-it’s not worth it.” I explained that while she might be right that she was wronged, going after him like that would only create pain and punishment. Engaging with him at all, even verbally, would not lead to a good reasult when she was this angry. Instead, she should stop herself in place, say to herself, “I will tell Ima instead,” and then we could brainstorm the best solution.
This all sounded pretty familiar to me. I realized that I often set up fences for my children, many of which amounted to “Don’t engage. Walk away.” I could do the same for myself. I resolved that the next time I received disappointing and seemingly unfair news by phone, I would write it down, get a contact number, and quickly say, “I’ll call back. Goodbye.” No conversations or questions, because then I would get drawn in and begin spiraling. After hanging up I would let myself stew if necessary and call back when I was logical. That would be my barrier against my rambles of complaint and negativity.
So far, most of the time, it works; whereas my sheer will before my new system did not.
When you’re working on yourself, it’s so hard going right up to the edge and then telling yourself to stop. It’s much easier not to get to the edge in the first place.
“…Haym amru sh’losha d’varim, v’asu siyag la’Torah…”
“They (Anshay K’nesses Ha’g’dola) said three things...and make a fence around the Torah.” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Aleph).
In his Meir Nesiv, R’ Meir Lehman compares the Torah to a beautiful garden abundant with flowers and succulent. This garden is surrounded by a fence, which has two functions: One, it protects the garden against depredation from without, and two, it keeps those in the garden from leaving its protective environs.
The fences that surround Torah are the protective enactments of the Sages. At first, there were few such safeguards, but with the passage of time, as the spiritual level of successive generations decreased, more and more fences were required. A classic example of a fence is the law of muktzeh, the prohibition against handling items on Shabbos ordinarily used for non-Shabbos activities.
Our Sages enactments are safeguards for the community as a whole; they do not speak to the particular needs of the individual. Each person knows his own frailties best. No one else is as acquainted with his weaknesses; no one else knows so intimately his limitations. A person should adopt personal fences to safeguard his behavior. For instance, if he too readily makes vows, he can obligate himself to donate a sum of money to charity every time he does so. If a person is prone to gossip he can avoid small talk in general.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
Why do we need protective fences when it comes to bain adam l’chavayro?
Where do we set up fences for ourselves and others in our own lives?
What are some examples of ahavas yisrael issues where fences could be useful? How might we implement them?
Stretch of the Week:
Set up a safeguard to help you work on a goal regarding interpersonal relationships.