By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

He flew into New York on Monday morning. He needed to be there on business, and the plan was to stay in New York for two weeks. His wife was only in her eighth month, so they figured he would be back with plenty of time before she was due to give birth. On Monday afternoon, just a few hours after he landed in New York, he received a call from his wife. She was in labor. He drove back to JFK and booked a flight on LY8, the 11:50 p.m. El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv.

His wife had just entered the delivery room, and he had no way of finding out more information once the flight took off, as there was no Wi-Fi. A few hours into the flight, he asked the flight attendant if any part of the plane did have Wi-Fi. She said no, but she asked for his wife’s information—what hospital she was in, her phone number, etc.

The man sat back down and began davening. After ten minutes, the flight attendant returned. She had some wine and chocolates with her. “Mazal Tov! It’s a boy; both are doing well!”

The pilot had called the wife on her cellphone to ask how she was doing and if there were any updates he could give her husband. Both husband and wife were enormously grateful.

This is a remarkable example of “nosei b’ol chaveiro,” a trait inherited from Avraham Avinu, from Rachel Imeinu, and from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Being nosei b’ol chaveiro is a beautiful middah and one of the 48 ways enumerated in Pirkei Avos (Chapter 6) by which one acquires perfection in the Torah lifestyle.

This past Shabbos was the yahrzeit of Mama Rochel, the exemplar of empathy and being nosei b’ol. The pasuk says, “And behold in the morning it was Leah.” Rashi points out that in the evening it wasn’t Leah, but Rachel had given the signs to her sister so that she would not be embarrassed. Why? Because she had empathy.

We learn from Rachel Imeinu to care about others.

The destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash and our exile to Bavel was primarily fueled by our avodah zarah. The Midrash cited by Rashi (Yirmiyahu 31) tells us regarding the avodah zarah of Menashe that Rachel said to Hashem, “I was not jealous of my co-wife and gave away my simanim (secret codes with my groom); You, too, Hashem, be not jealous of avodah zarah! The Midrash explains that it was in her merit, in her being nosei b’ol, that Hashem restored us to Eretz Yisrael and rebuilt our Beis HaMikdash.

This is a trait that can also be developed. Moshe Rabbeinu went out and developed this trait further. “Vayar b’sivlosam”—he went out to see and feel their pain.

What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? A great rabbi once said: sympathy is seeing people stuck in a ditch and feeling bad for them. Empathy is climbing into the ditch with them.

When we are nosei b’ol chaveiro, our world becomes bigger.

Perhaps we should implement a curriculum to develop this remarkable trait in our schools. It has been years since it was brought to this country’s attention that backpacks are heavy strains on the backs of our children. Well, why haven’t we done anything? There is sympathy, but if we had true empathy, we would have done something about it.

We need a curriculum for nosei b’ol chaveiro. It would eliminate the “us versus them” mentality that exists in some of our schools between different cliques, between parents and administration or teachers; between schools and students. And it would better prepare people for marriage.

This author recalls that a man had passed away in Far Rockaway without leaving a child. His only brother was mentally retarded, and the man’s wife faced a difficult halachic question. Could her brother-in-law perform chalitzah or was he considered a halachic shoteh and thus ineligible?

Another time this question arose was in the early 1960s, and it was brought to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l. In the later case, this author recalls bringing Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt’l, to the shivah home where he spent three hours with the deceased man’s family. Rav Belsky consoled the parents while simultaneously determining the status of the brother. He was truly nosei b’ol chaveiro.

The nichum aveilim was so comforting to the parents that they thanked me for bringing them this “wonderful holy rabbi.” I was happy to be zocheh to be a part of this.

Being nosei b’ol chaveiro brings depth and meaning to our relationships—any relationship—and helps us smooth over conflict and misunderstanding.

Shortly before Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt’l, passed away, he was suffering from a painful illness. Despite his pain, he arranged a get for an agunah whose husband had violated the trust of numerous people. Rav Belsky’s remarkable personality was instrumental in arranging for this woman’s freedom. That agunah expressed deep emotion in telling this author how instrumental Rav Belsky was in freeing her and in his nosei b’ol chaveiro. This was in the very last active moments of his life.

When nosei b’ol chaveiro, we become more compassionate, self-aware, and fully rounded individuals.

Being nosei b’ol chaveiro is about the ability to take another person’s perspective—even one that is very different from our own.

Being nosei b’ol chaveiro would alleviate the shidduch crisis.

Though it is an innate ability implanted in our nature by HaKadosh Baruch Hu, it is in decline. We need to consciously cultivate and develop this middah of nosei b’ol chaveiro. An effective approach would be to develop a curriculum for it in our schools. n

 

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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