By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
After much pleading from my wife, I agreed to take my children to the barber. The last child to get his hair cut was behaving rather well, when suddenly the screaming started. I ran over and saw that the barber had cut my son’s ear. There was plenty of blood, but it looked much worse than it really was.
My wife contacted the family doctor for advice on how to proceed. The question was whether the injury warranted stitches. I walked out of the barbershop and told my wife that I was not paying for the haircuts. My wife instructed me otherwise.
So I declared, “Well, at least I am not going to pay for that last haircut.” Once again my wife disagreed.
“Well, I am not giving any tips!”
My wife said, “No. You should give the tips.”
So I said, “Well, I am certainly not going to tip the barber who cut my son’s ear.”
My wife replied, “Please tip that barber as well.”
So I went inside to pay for all the haircuts and to tip the barbers. In the end, the proprietor insisted that the haircuts were on the house, but I did tip the barbers.
At the time, I was quite upset, but I realized that my wife was correct. The barber did not intentionally injure my child and probably felt horrible. The incident reminded of the following story mentioned in Bava Metzia (83a).
Rabbah Bar Bar Chana hired workers to transport barrels of wine for him. The workers were negligent and the barrels broke, causing Rabbah a huge loss. The workers were liable for the negligent actions, so Rabbah seized their cloaks as restitution. The workers went to the great Amora known as Rav to complain.
Rav directed Rabbah to return their cloaks. Rabbah asked Rav, “Is that the law? These workers were negligent!”
Rav said, “Yes, indeed. The verse states, ‘in order that you travel on the road of the good’ (Mishlei 2:20).” Rashi explains that Rav was directing Rabbah to go beyond the letter of the law. True, the workers were negligent, yet the actions were unintentional. Therefore, Rav felt that the proper course of action was to forgive their negligence but forgo payment.
The workers persisted and complained to Rav. “We are poor. We worked the entire day on this project. We are hungry, yet we have nothing.” Whereupon Rav directed Rabbah to pay the workers their expected wages.
Rabbah asked Rav, “Is that the law? Should I pay for labor that in the end did not benefit me at all?”
Rav answered “Yes. The verse states,Â ‘And the path of the righteous you shall guard’ (ibid.).”
The Vilna Gaon explains that the first part of the verse is referring to good people who are willing to forgive people who incurred debts to them. This is a wonderful attribute, and fortunately it is not that rare. Therefore, the verse describes this conduct as the “road of the good.” However, to actually take money out of one’s pocket and pay money to people who are not legally entitled to it is indeed rare. Only tzaddikim have this attribute. That is why the verse refers to this conduct as the “path of the righteous.” A path is not well-traveled, as opposed to a road, which is a busy thoroughfare.
Further, this path is taken only by the righteous. When one conducts his business affairs according to a higher standard than others, he must constantly be on guard. He may be tempted to just follow the crowd, and reason that he should not have to act more scrupulously than everyone else. Therefore, the verse states, “And the path of the righteous you shall guard.” If someone indeed achieves a higher level of righteousness, he must constantly guard himself to ensure that he maintains it.
The Chida questions Rav’s response to Rabbah. Rabbah asked Rav if it was indeed the law that he had to pay or return the cloak. Rav should have answered, “No, it is not. But it would be a nice thing to do.”
The Chida explains that a righteous individual is obligated to live by a higher standard. Rav indeed felt that a great sage such as Rabbah should conduct himself according to a higher standard; for Rabbah, this conduct is not optional, but rather expected.
The story in the barbershop is significantly different from Rabbah’s story. I benefited from all the haircuts. However, the Gemara teaches us the level we should strive for–we should try to be a cut above the rest.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.