March 28, 2022

Yevamot 12

Today’s daf (Yevamot 12a) contains a teaching of Rebbi which, though said with respect to the laws of Yibbum and Halitzah, can be applied to many other realms of life. Specifically, Rebbi’s teaching states that: לא ישפוך אדם מי בורו ואחרים צריכים להם – ‘a person should not spill out extra water [from their pit] when others need [the water]’.

From a simple reading of this statement we learn the importance of not wasting resources, and it is noteworthy that numerous halachic authorities cite this teaching to emphasize the mitzvah of recycling.

However, beyond recycling and other efforts to protect our environment, the word ‘resource’ can be explained in a broader manner. Accordingly, whenever Rav Aharon Kotler (1891-1962) was in a taxi with some spare seats, he would ask the driver to stop and pick up people standing by the road who were looking for a ride towards the same direction (see Kuntress Chaim V’Chessed p. 75). When asked why he did so, he explained that it was based on this teaching of Rebbi – meaning that he had something (in this case, a ride) that he could offer to another, and therefore rather than ‘wasting’ those extra seats, he shared them with others.

But Rav Kotler didn’t just do this with his physical resources; he did it with his very self, and this is why he would make sure to learn Torah with students studying in his Yeshiva who were struggling to find a shidduch with the knowledge that if people knew that if they were worthy to study with Rav Kotler, it suggested that they were impressive Torah scholars (ibid.). What this means is that Rav Kotler understood Rebbi’s teaching to refer not just to physical resources, but also to the impact and influence that we can have on others.

Significantly, Rav Kotler was not the only one who understood this message, and in our generation, a Torah leader who gave of himself in so many ways was Rabbi Chaim Kanivesky zt’l (1928-2022) – who died on Erev Shabbat.

For those unaware, Rav Chaim made himself and his wisdom available to a huge range of people, and through doing so he personified Rebbi’s teaching – which means even more given the notion that Torah is often compared to water – that, ‘a person should not spill out extra water [from their pit] when others need [the water]’. Here is just one story expressing this sensitivity as recorded by R’ Krohn in his ‘In the Splendor of the Maggid’ pp. 131-132:

“Many years ago, in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky went to a store to purchase a lulav. The proprietor gave him a few to choose from. Reb Chaim picked up one, examined it carefully, shook his head and then put it down. He picked up a second one, looked it over slowly, and that one too he put down. The third lulav met with his approval. He paid for it and left the store. Someone who had been watching Reb Chaim in the store found it incredulous. He followed him outside and said to Reb Chaim’s son-in-law, who had accompanied him, “I can’t get over your father-in-law’s mazel (good fortune). It takes me hours to find a good lulav and look how Hashem blessed him. In less than 10 minutes Reb Chaim found a lulav to his liking.” The son-in-law smiled and said to the gentleman, “Come, walk us home.” When they entered the apartment, the son-in-law took the man into a room and showed him that Reb Chaim had more than a dozen lulavim on a table! “You see,” the son-in-law said, “Rav Chaim knows that people watch his every move. If he were to go into a store, examine a few lulavim, and leave without buying one, that owner would not be able to sell another lulav. People would assume that his merchandise is inferior. So no matter what store he goes into, my father-in-law buys at least one, so as not to hurt the storekeeper’s reputation.”

What we see from this story is not only great human sensitivity, but also the idea that where we can positively influence, assist, encourage or endorse others, then we should do so.

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