We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create
z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Catch yourself thinking negatively about a situation and try to shift to a more positive outlook.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
A Good Friend…A Good Neighbor
חבר טוב/שכן טוב
Chovair Tov…Shochain Tov
Perek Bais, Mishna Yud Gimmel Part 2
Story: (based on a true story)
I was worried the minute the house next door went on the market. I loved my neighbors of six years, but they were making aliya and I was beyond thrilled for them.
I knew how much I would miss my friendship with Chaya. We had been supporting and pushing each other in motherhood, ruchni’us and attaining simcha since my family moved in, and were both grateful for the fact that we lived so close and could be regular parts of each others’ lives. Being next door created the potential for conflict--we shared a couple of trees as well as a driveway entrance, among other differences so many neighbors have. We worked out the small necessary issues and ignored others, and a beautiful relationship was able to blossom.
Because of this, I was not prepared for how things ended shaping up with my new neighbors, despite our sharing a wonderful Shabbos meal just after they arrived. Within a week of moving in, the Shneirsons’ four boys began to host frequent baseball and football games in their backyard. They are often found extending past the large shared driveway and into our yard with balls being regularly hit and thrown onto our property and someone running through whatever my kids are doing (at the time) to retrieve them.
On a gorgeous day just before Rosh Hashanah, I found my eight-year-old daughter jumping rope with her friends in the basement; she said she now played inside on nice days so she wouldn’t get hit by any balls or running boys.
On top of that, Baila Schneirson often parked her car in the lower shared part of the driveway in such a way that I couldn’t get in. After mentioning it a few times and getting an “Oh my gosh, sorry! I’ll try harder in the future” but with no change. I began taking street parking whenever I could find it, even if it was across the street and I had my little ones and groceries with me. Often I would need to send a child to knock on their door and have them move their car.
By the time the Yomim Tovim were over, I had figured out that the Shneirsons could have been good friends of ours if they didn’t live next door. We loved their positive energy and their casual way of leading a low-stress life without sweating the details. For us, though, this meant loose boundaries in terms of our properties. They were completely consistent, it didn’t bother them if we strayed into their property, but it did bother us. My mother would say, “Just park in the middle of the driveway on purpose for a week. She’ll get the message!” But I couldn’t do that. So I stewed, and snapped at the boys to stay out of our yard, and reminded Baila about the car. I was that kind of neighbor. I had a feeling it wasn’t fun living next door to me.
A long talk with another friend revealed that she and many other people grew up and lived with loose backyard boundaries. The kids on the block played basketball in her driveway and baseball and tag at the two houses in back of hers because they had a big combined yard, and the girls took whoever’s yard was free, even if that girl wasn’t playing. Sure, they had permission from everyone, but it was a pretty informal thing.
Just because it wasn’t the way I grew up and did things, didn’t mean that it was a wrong way. I had been judging the Shneirsons’ way as wrong from the start, which gave me little mental room to give a little where possible. Clearly, a compromise was in order-I had things I needed, and it would be best for me to give a little too, even if it was something I felt I had a right to.
So we sat down and talked. In the spirit of “good fences make good neighbors”, we agreed to paint a line down the middle of the driveway to help each driver know where he or she couldn’t be. A pair of bright, cheerful colors turned it into a makeshift balance beam for the girls and a happy reminder for their mother of the necessity to be extra careful for the sake of shalom and simcha between neighbors. The Shneirsons agreed to tell their boys to stay out of our yard when we asked them to, and to speak to them about the importance of listening to us. We agreed to speak up when there was an issue instead of stewing, and to let the kids play by us at other times, which our boys ended up enjoying as well. Meanwhile, I decided to try to be a little more informal and let the kids sort things out, as long as they were safe. I began teaching my daughter to stand up for her needs and to come get me when necessary.
Six months later, it’s still not as easy and seamless as it was with my original neighbors. It’s not always easy for the kids to work things out, but they need my help less and less. They are learning to deal with others who may not be like them but who are going to be there nonetheless. It’s not my ideal way of doing things, but I try to focus on what we are all learning. I am learning to ask for what I need calmly, and a little of Baila’s tendency to take things in stride is rubbing off on me for the better. And, every so often, my new neighbors will create a great impromptu back yard activity that is so wonderful for my family that I am so grateful they are there.
"אמר להם: ..צאו וראו איזו היא דרך טובה שידבק בה האדם... רבי יהושע אומר: חבר טוב. רבי יוסי אומר: שכן טוב."...
"Omar lahem: Tz’u u’r’u aizo hi derech tova sheyidbak bah ha’adam…Rabi Yehoshua omer, chovair tov. Rabi Yosi omer, shochain tov…".
He (Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them (his students): “Go out and see which is the proper path to which a person should cling... Rabi Y’hoshua says, “A good companion”. Rabi Yosi says, “A good neighbor."… (Perek Bais, Yud Gimmel).
A good companion is a friend who serves as a positive role model, who influences one’s life for the better, and in whose presence one is ashamed to be any less than one’s best (M’iri and Rabbainu Bachya). A good companion can infuse a person with a new spirit by making him aware of fresh possibilities and perspectives. Rabbainu Yona states that the mishna means not that a person must find a good companion but that he must be a good companion to others, which he does by acquiring good traits, a positive attitude, and a healthy personality. One must learn humility so as not to inadvertently drive others away, one must possess wisdom to offer wise counsel, and one must be trustworthy and patient.
Rabi Yosi HaKohen praises a good neighbor, for his constant presence can be more meaningful than the influence of a good companion. A good neighbor affects one’s entire family; one is always meeting him, and one’s children play with his (Rabbainu Bavhya, Midrash Shmuel, M’iri). Indeed, states Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlai, “A close neighbor is better than a distant brother.”
But we cannot always control who our neighbors will be. Thus, Rabbainu Yona understands the phrase differently: not that we should seek a good neighbor but that we should seek to be a good neighbor to others.
To be a good neighbor, one must go beyond the letter of the law. That explains why this phrase is said by a man known for his piety, which also consists of going beyond the letter of the law. A person who says, “What’s mine is yours and what is yours is yours is a chasid...” (Pirkai Avos 5:13); “a person whom it is difficult to anger and who is easily appeased is a chasid…” (Pirkai Avos 5:14); “one who wishes to give and wishes that others will also give is a chasid…” (Pirkai Avos 5:16). All of these are traits of piety that are also those of a good neighbor.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What do you think makes a shachain tov?
How can a friendship be affected by being neighbors?
What are some practical strategies for living in peace with neighbors who may be different from us? How can our dealing with such a situation improve us?
Stretch of the Week:
Go out of the way for a neighbor by doing something extra or letting something go.