Running to a Phone and Chilul Hashem
QUESTION 10: RUNNING TO A PHONE
It was only 3 minutes before the bus was scheduled
to arrive, and I started running towards the only
phone near the bus stop in order to tell my wife
something important. When I was ten feet from the
phone, I noticed that another person had been walking
towards the same phone. He didn't see me, and he had
started walking towards the phone way before I had
started running towards it. I was concerned that if
he now saw me running to get the phone, he might think
that I was trying to 'cut him off'. There probably
wasn't enough time for both of us to make a call
before the bus came. Should I grab the phone (since
I was closer to it than he was as this point), or should
I let him use it, since he moved towards the phone way
before I did. If I had seen him walking towards the
phone at the beginning, I certainly wouldn't have
tried to cut him off.
RABBI BELSKY'S ANSWER
It's permissible to take the phone before him,
because you happened to be there before him. To
run in order to be there before him is not the
correct thing to do. But just because he started
out earlier doesn't mean he has priority. On the
other hand, there is an issue of chesed (kindness)
involved here, and there's something that could
be said for choosing to do that.
How about a "mar'as eiyin" (appearing wrong)?
Could it appear as though I am being too 'pushy'?
That's true -- a person should be careful that
it doesn't appear that he is doing something bad
-- he should also be careful that the other person
doesn't have bad feelings because of him. . That's
an important part of chesed (kindness)..
I remember my wife's grandfather z"l, he was a
shochet (butcher), a litvishe yid (Lithuanian Jew).
He was a very erliche yid (sincere and honest Jew).
He lived in Kentucky, and later in Cincinnati. In
his old age he came to New York, and then he saw
Chassidim for the first time -- he hadn't really
come across too many in Kentucky and Cincinnati.
Once he went to a heart doctor in New York. While
he was waiting, the door opened and a distinguished
rebbe (Chasidic Rabbi) with his gabbai (assistant)
walked in. The gabbai brushed everybody aside and
walked straight to the door and ushered the rebbe
in to see the doctor. Before going in, the rebbe saw
him waiting there. He walked over to him and said,
"I want to ask you a favor. I'm going to be with the
doctor just one minute, if it's okay with you. If it's
not okay with you, I won't go in. One minute is all I
need." My wife's grandfather said okay, and the rebbe
went inside. He was in there for a minute or so, and
then he came back out. The gabbai was ready to march
straight out the door, but the rebbe walked over to
him again, and said, "Was it okay with you? I tried
hard to make it short. I think it was just a minute
or two that I was there. Thank you so much. I really
appreciate it." Later my wife's grandfather said to me,
"I don't know much about Chassidim and rebbes, but
there's one rebbe that I could tell you is okay."
This is a model for behavior when one thinks that
another person might feel hurt by him. But regarding
the question you asked, there's no obligation to let
the other person go ahead. On the other hand, it's
important that the other person shouldn't have hurt feelings.
So where does this fall in the realm of halacha
(Jewish Law)? Is this just a nice middah (character
Yes, but a Mida Tova (good attribute), although
not required by strict Halachah, can sometimes
be more central to Torah values, and most often
more difficult and necessary to cultivate. The
Talmud states: "What is Kiddish Hashem? If one
studies Torah, deals honestly, and behaves peacefully
with his fellows. What do people say of him? Happy
is the man who learns Torah. Of him it is written:
'He (Hashem) said, you are my servant, a Jew of
whom I (Hashem) can be proud.' "
So if there is a possibility that the person would
perceive it as though you're taking something away
from him, is it a chilul Hashem (desecration of
It may not be chillul Hashem. The person will not
think to himself, "Oh, he's an Orthodox Jew..." He'll
just be upset at you. But again, it's worth emphasizing
that a person should be mesame'ach Elokim v'anoshim
(a person should make G-d and other people happy).
At a question and answer gathering, a person once
asked me, "When one hears rumors of a possible koshrus
problem with a product known to be kosher should he
immediately publicize the problem, and discourage
people from using it?" I said no. First find out
for sure about the problem. If there is really a
legitimate basis for concern, the problem should
be made public. But the reaction should not be
There are many reasons for this. First, when
something has been presumed to be kosher - it
has a chezkas kashrus (presumption of being kosher),
and a rumor doesn't change that unless substantiated.
But there is a more important reason. The Kohen
Gadol (High Priest), when he went into the Holy of
Holies on Yom Kippur, said a very important prayer -
asking for forgiveness for all the people. However,
he didn't stay there too long. The reason, the
Mishnah says, is so that he shouldn't scare the
tzibbor (the public). When people put the declarations
of possible problems -- the kol korehs (public
proclamations) -- on the street right away,
they're making the people upset and fearful.
This is very unsettling, and should be avoided.
On the other hand, when people are incorrectly
upset about something, one must be consider
their feelings. If one person walks very slowly,
and the other more quickly, the one who walks more
quickly has no obligation to let the other one go
first. The faster walker should, however, try to be
polite about it, and say, "Is it okay with you that
I make the call? If it's not, you make the call."
The person will decline and say, "No, no, go ahead
with the call". Be polite and kind to each other,
then everybody will be happy. That's the way to do things.
Is there a greater or lesser issue of chillul Hashem,
depending on if the person is a Jew or not a Jew,
or if he is not familiar with observant people?
It does make a difference if the person is not a
Jew. You should be more concerned if the other
person is not a Jew. I was in a situation once
many years ago, and up to this day I am a little
bit sad about it. I drove to an affair, and there
was a parking spot right there in front of where
I wanted to go. So I went ahead in order to parallel
park into that space, and then I started backing in.
Just then someone -- not a Jew -- zoomed in with his
car and went halfway in, so that I couldn't move. I
wasn't sure if I should leave, or what to do. Should
I get out of the car and tell him that it's my space?
He knew he was cutting me off. But I was hesitant about
what am I going to do? Who knows what kind of
abusive language he'll hurl at me?
I just sat in my seat for a minute or so, and didn't
move. Then I decided to get out, and he said to me,
"You look down on our people. You didn't have the
courtesy..." Talk about courtesy, when he saw that
I was backing into that space. He was obviously
not interested in courtesy. But I thought that
there was a trace of chillul Hashem because he said,
"you look down upon our people." What was I to do?
Tell him that he was acting rudely?
No, I have no qualms about the difficulty I caused
the other person, because it was really his intention
to cut me off. But the chillul Hashem bothered me,
because he's going to tell people that these rabbis,
these Jews, look down on others. It would cause
hostile feelings towards us.
But with the telephone situation, does it make a
difference if the other person is an observant
Jew, or a non-observant Jew, or not a Jew?
There are two concerns. If the person is not
observant, he may think that orthodox Jews act
rudely, or if he is a non-Jew, then he may think
that Jews act rudely, even though in point of fact
you're not really doing anything wrong. With an
observant Jew you only have to be concerned about
there not being any bad feelings.
So a person should be more stringent with
non-observant Jews and non-Jewish people?
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 11: USING SOFTWARE SUPPORT
At work, a software company wants me to
evaluate their product so that I may recommend
that our company purchase it. They have arranged
that their technical support person will be
available to answer any questions I may have.
On a separate project I have, that has nothing
to do with the evaluation of the company's product,
I have a question that I feel their technical support
person might be able to answer. Can I call him up and
ask him this question? If I call up for a question
that does have to do with his product, can I ask
him the other question if it doesn't take too
much of his time?
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 12: LENDING A PEN FROM WORK
If my son asks me for a pen so he can use it
at school, and the only pen I have is a 10-cent
pen I have from work, can I give it to him,
being reasonably certain that it won't find
its way back to my desk at work?
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