“… And he shall surely heal him.” [21:19]
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, uses this short phrase — “and he [who injured his fellow man] shall surely heal him” — to help us develop an entirely new outlook on interpersonal relations, on our coexistence with others in this world.
In the Talmud [Bava Kamma 88a], our Sages say, “From here (we learn that) permission is given to the doctor to heal.” Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, adds there, “and we do not say that ‘G-d made him sick; He will make him well.'” One who caused an injury must pay the doctor as necessary to heal the victim, but Rashi begins by accepting as a given that in reality, G-d was the one who caused the injury, not the human being.
The Chofetz Chaim helps us to look at what Rashi is saying. We see here that all pain or injury that a person suffers comes directly from G-d. This is true even when one person hits another! A person cannot hit someone else unless G-d deems it appropriate for the second person to be hit. Reuven cannot hit Shimon unless, in the opinion of G-d himself, Shimon “has it coming.” Reuven is involved only because, in the words of our Sages, “bad things come by way of a deficient person.” [The Hebrew idiom is perhaps lost in translation, but the intent is clear.]
The Torah is telling us that if someone injures me, I will just be wasting time and energy if I get angry at him. Obviously he is a “deficient person,” and I should consider avoiding him in the future — but what he did is his problem. Rather than taking revenge, I have to take stock of my own actions: why was it appropriate that I be hit?
Forgive me if I insinuate that you, like I, most likely do not live your life this way. I would be amazed to learn that among the tens of thousands of readers, more than one or two managed to avoid anger at a person who wronged him or her. But the evidence is that the Chofetz Chaim did indeed live life this way.
The Chofetz Chaim was called once to testify in court, and the lawyer wanted to explain to the court what an honest man the Rabbi was. He said that once the Chofetz Chaim caught a thief stealing property from his small home. He pursued the thief, shouting “it’s yours! I forgive you!”
The judge looked at the lawyer and asked if he truly believed this amazing tale. “I’m not certain, your Honor,” said the lawyer, “but I do know that they do not tell such stories about you and me.”
Another story is told of a yeshiva student who misbehaved on several occasions, until the Rosh Yeshiva, or Dean, decided that he would have to expel him. On his way out, the student decided to take his last parting shots — so he stood on the front steps, and while waiting for his ride home explained in a loud voice exactly what he thought of the yeshiva and the Dean who stood at its helm.
A few observers noticed that the Rosh Yeshiva himself was standing by a second story window, not trying to stop the student, but rather listening carefully. After the student had left, one of these observers asked why he did not have someone rebuke the student. “Because,” he responded, “I knew that some of what he said might be true. I was listening to see what I might learn.” [I have seen this story recorded in a number of places, but unfortunately do not recall which yeshiva and which dean were involved.]
Obviously, this is a very high standard of behavior, one which cannot be reached overnight. Few of us have come close to this level. Nonetheless, it certainly doesn’t hurt to set such a high goal!
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.