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The Wisdom of Gentle Persuasion

by | Feb 19, 2004

Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam was spiritual leader of the Bobover Chassidim for over 50 years, until his death in 2000. During World War II, his father, wife and two children were killed. Rabbi Halberstam rebuilt his life in America where, with his great wisdom and piety, he was the spiritual leader of thousands.

The following true story is a lesson in how to treat others with honor and respect, and how to influence them to do good. The lesson is especially relevant during the High holidays, when “God acts toward us as we act toward others.”

A man once came to Rabbi Halberstam, regarding a sticky financial problem. This person (we will call him Reuven) was a remodeler who had contracted to install an ultramodern kitchen with the newest appliances for a customer (we will call him Shimon) for a large sum of money. The contract called for installment payments throughout the job and the customer had kept to the deal. Immediately after completion, however, with an outstanding balance of several thousand dollars, he refused to honor his commitment.

Weeks and months passed and the amount was not paid. Reuven tried whatever means possible to collect, calling him daily and demanding some form of payment schedule, but to no avail. Reuven came to Rabbi Halberstam requesting his assistance.

Rabbi Halberstam listened attentively to all the details and asked some questions. He wanted to know the specifics about the raw materials used, their country of origin and similar particulars. Despite his absolute befuddlement at the rabbi’s interest in the technical details, Reuven answered all questions.

Shortly after Reuven left, Rabbi Halberstam asked his assistant to get in touch with Shimon and to invite him to visit. Hearing that the rabbi wished to see him, he left in middle of work and came over immediately. Rabbi Halberstam welcomed Shimon with his characteristically sparkling smile and reassuring warmth, inviting him to sit down next to him, while he made conversation about the welfare of Shimon’s family, their health and education. After a few minutes, the rabbi addressed him in an intimate, whispering tone, saying: “Shimon, my dear, I have invited you here in order to get your opinion on a specific subject. You know me in the capacity of rabbi, a spiritual leader. But I have another role to play, and that is to be a good husband to my rebbetzin.

“Recently, it occurred to me that our kitchen is quite old and neglected, and I’ve heard that you have recently installed a beautiful new kitchen; I was wondering if you would mind sharing your experiences with me.” The rabbi led him to the kitchen and pointed out his general plan, surprising Shimon immensely with his familiarity with the technical details of kitchen remodeling.

“My main concern,” Rabbi Halberstam explained, “is whether you and your wife were totally satisfied with the workmanship, and if the work met your original specifications. If so, it might be worthwhile for my wife to visit your home and see for herself.”

“It will be an absolute delight and honor to host the rebbetzin in our home,” Shimon said enthusiastically. “The kitchen is totally finished and my wife and I are exceptionally happy with it. I am certain that the Rebbetzin will also be pleased with it,” Shimon said with delight.

“One more little question to you, Shimon,” Rabbi Halberstam said. “There is something that concerns me more than anything else. I’ve been told that often a contractor will do excellent work, but at the conclusion of the job there are dozens of loose ends: though they are minor, these unfinished details are very irksome to the housewife who is eager to see the job totally finished. I was wondering, how was your experience regarding this concern?”

“I’ll be totally forthright,” Shimon said. “My wife and I were both absolutely satisfied, both with the workmanship as well as with the final touches. Our contractor did not leave a single item unfinished.”

Hearing this truly enthusiastic report about the contractor, Rabbi Halberstam again asked Shimon to join him in his study and personally offered him a chair. He then asked his assistant to kindly bring in some light refreshments “for our dear visitor.” Shimon was overwhelmed, not knowing how to handle so much attention, first as the rabbi’s personal consultant, and then as his “dear visitor.”

After tasting some of the refreshments, Rabbi Halberstam turned to Shimon and began talking to him in a loving, fatherly tone. “Shimon, my dear. I have an important request to ask of you. I have now heard from your own mouth the details about your new kitchen and how totally satisfied both you and your wife are with all facets of the job. I wish to share with you a statement from our Sages. They teach that one’s personality can be identified “b’kiso, b’koso ub’kaaso” — with his purse [money], with his cup [when intoxicated] and when he’s angry. Note that money is one of the key elements in determining the values of a human being.

“Let me give you some insight into the phenomenal significance of this statement. God’s relationship with man is reciprocal. If a person deals with others with integrity, then the Almighty showers that person with abundance and prosperity. On the other hand, if we shortchange others, then God will do likewise and will put us at the same disadvantage, a prospect we hope will never come to pass. I ask you, Shimon, my dear, do yourself a favor and pay the bill you owe Reuven expeditiously.”

The rabbi’s words, spoken with kindness and love and without the slightest trace of accusation, had the proper effect. That very afternoon Shimon paid the bill in full to the satisfaction of his friend Reuven, to the satisfaction of the rabbi, and to the satisfaction of his Father in Heaven.

Excerpted with permission from “Noble Lives, Noble Deeds”
captivating stories and biographical profiles of spiritual giants.

Published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY.

Presented in cooperation with Heritage House, Jerusalem.