Rivkah is lauded for her incredible sensitivity and kindness in offering water to Eliezer. This was the finishing touch upon which her selection to be Yitzchak Avinu’s wife was predicated. Imagine, someone has been wearily trudging through the sun-baked wilderness. His throat is parched; he is sweating profusely. He badly needs water. Would the person who reaches out to him with a jug of water be considered especially kind or, simply a decent human being? Horav Eliyahu Dushnitzer, zl, explains that Rivkah’s greatness shone forth when she offered to water the camels as well. Eliezer had asked for a drink for himself. Rivkah immediately poured him a drink and then offered to provide water for his ten camels! Camels drink a lot. To provide for them meant running back and forth to the well numerous times. It was this sensitivity to others – even to animals – that exemplified Rivkah’s character. Kindness means more than providing what one asks. Kindness means looking and appraising oneself of what someone needs. Thinking of others, regardless of who or what they are, indicates the loftiness of one’s character.
Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, related the following vignette concerning Rav Dushnitzer when he was the Menahel Ruchani Ethical Supervisor, of Yeshivas Lomza in Petach Tikvah: A man who was totally secular in his faith and commitment to Judaism walked by the yeshivah on erev Yom Kippur. He noticed that outside of the sheirutim, the room which housed the bathroom facilities, there stood an elderly rav sporting a long, white beard, tearing toilet paper. Why would a man who appeared to be a distinguished person stand outside the lavatory tearing toilet paper on erev Yom Kippur? The man could not contain his incredulity, so, he approached the Mashgiach and asked what and why he was doing this? The Mashgiach, in his quiet, humble manner, replied, “Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, and we will be having many guests joining us for the tefillos. As a result, it is expected that this area will be used and paper will be needed. Thus, I am making sure that the necessary paper is available.”
The man who related this incident to Rav Sholom said, “With each rip of the paper, he was ripping my heart! To see such an eminent person care for others on a day when he surely had much more to do for himself, inspired me to begin reflecting on my life and how I had wasted it. Immediately after Yom Kippur, I made an appointment to meet with the mashgiach and asked him to help me while I could still save myself and my future generations.” All this happened because a holy man cared about the “little things” that people needed.
We take much for granted – especially those things which we have deemed to fall under the rubric of “little things,” “unimportant things.” The following story is a classic demonstration of how far our sensitivity should extend – even to those who are no longer with us. When our sensitivity is flawed, it affects our subconscious to the point that the little flaw will manifest itself later under different conditions. At that point, it will no longer be a little flaw, but a major failing.
The Klausenberger Rebbe, zl, traveled with a group of his chassidim to the kever, grave, of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai, which is located in Ein Zeisim, northern Eretz Yisrael. Chazal refer to him usually as Rabbi Yehudah. He was known not only for his extraordinary erudition, but also for his strict and meticulous adherence to Halachah. While visiting the kever, the Rebbe and his entourage davened Minchah at the same time/zman when Klausenberger chassidim usually daven. (The zman to which they adhere is somewhat later than what is the accepted norm. The time for Minchah recital is connected with plag Minchah, one and a quarter hours, sha’os zemanios, halachic hours, which are based on the length of the day, sunrise to sunset, divided by twelve. The chassidim davened at a relatively late time, in accordance with the Klausenberg custom.)
When they concluded Minchah, the Rebbe and his chassidim returned to their cars. Suddenly, the Rebbe began to shake and was visibly upset. He refused to eat and gave no reason. The Rebbe was no longer a strong, young man – his body having suffered terrible privation during the Holocaust years. The chassidim attempted futilely to convince him to eat something. He refused and remained silent. Something was clearly wrong. When they arrived where they were staying for the night, the Rebbe separated from his chassidim. In the late morning, after that had completed Tefillas Shacharis, the Rebbe continued fasting. During the early afternoon, the Rebbe announced that he wanted to return to Rabbi Yehudah’s kever to daven an early Minchah. They did so, and after Minchah, the Rebbe finally broke his fast and returned to his calm, affable manner.
The chassidim asked the Rebbe for an explanation. This was not the Rebbe’s usual demeanor. Something had occurred which spurred his sudden, tense reaction, followed by fasting. The Rebbe explained that he was upset with himself for acting insensitively toward the neshamah, soul, of Rabbi Yehudah. “We davened Minchah at Rabbi Yehudah’s kever in accordance with the plag Minchah z’man which we keep. However, Rabbi Yehudah clearly states in the Mishnah that the z’man of plag Minchah is earlier. [Rabbi Yehudah was of the opinion that Minchah may be recited from half an hour after chatzos, midday, until one and one quarter hours before shkiyah, sunset. His counterparts held that Minchah may be recited until shkiyah.] Imagine, how his holy neshamah must have felt when we davened Minchah by his kever after the z’man. Thus, we had to return to his kever so that we could daven Minchah earlier – at a time that coincided with Rabbi Yehudah’s halachic opinion.”
It requires a truly great person to be sensitive to those things which the average person might view as small or insignificant.