His Face Turned White
By Roy S. Neuberger
This is a true story.
My friend was davening Friday night somewhere in Israel. In this shul the rov speaks in Hebrew between Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv. My friend’s Hebrew skills are weak, so the rov originally suggested that he daven elsewhere Friday night where he would feel more comfortable. But he enjoys davening in that shul. The rov then suggested, “Bring a sefer and learn it while I speak. It’s fine with me; I will not be the least bit offended.” And this is the way it has been.
One recent Friday night a new person sat down next to my friend. During the rov’s droshe, this person kept staring at my friend. After a while, he nudged him, pointed at the rov and made motions to indicate that he should put down his sefer and listen to the droshe.
After davening, my friend said to the man, “I understand your concern, but there is a reason for what I was doing. If you’d like, I will explain it to you.”
Listen to the response: “Don’t explain. I don’t care what your reason is.”
My friend felt the blood rush to his face and then drain from it. He turned white.
Without exaggeration, I believe the man who said these words may face a very serious judgment in Olam Ha Emes.
“Just as there is wrongdoing in buying and selling, so there is wrongdoing with words…. A Tanna taught in the presence of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak: If someone makes his friend’s face turn white [from shame] in public, it is as if he has spilled blood. [Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak] said [to the Tanna]: What you are saying is right, because I have seen how the red coloring leaves [the face of an embarrassed person] and his face turns white. [Tosfos remarks: although a person generally turns red when he is embarrassed, this is because the blood gathers in his face before draining from it.] Abbaye said to Rav Dimi: About what are they careful in the West? [Rav Dimi] answered him: They are careful about [not] embarrassing people…. [The Gemora elaborates, in the words of Rabbi Chanina:] All who descend to Gehenom [soon] ascend, except for three … [one of whom is] someone who makes his friend’s face turn white [from shame] in public….” (Bava Metzia 58b)
My friends, we are approaching Pesach, and I believe that we must consider very carefully our behavior toward our fellow Jews. We are eliminating chometz. Are we eliminating the chometz in our heart?
We were able to stand at Har Sinai only because we were “k’ish echad b’lev echad ... like one man with one heart.” (Rashi on Shemos 19:2) This is the prerequisite not only for our glory but for our very survival. We were one, and Hashem spoke to us because we were one. He is One – Hashem Echad! – and it is our avoda to imitate Him. When we allowed ourselves to be divided by sinas chinom – unwarranted hatred, lack of compassion – our Holy Temple was destroyed and we were thrown into the catastrophic Golus from which we are still unable to extricate ourselves.
When are we going to learn?
When are we going to tear down the wall separating brother from brother?
It is even worse when we batter each other with clubs of Torah, because Torah’s essential nature is to bring peace. That means we are twisting Torah. How can we bring Redemption if we are cold and hateful to each other? Are we living in a fantasy? What is wrong with us!
“Which is the one destined for the World to Come? [One who is] modest and humble, who enters bowing and leaves bowing, and learns Torah constantly but does not take credit for himself.” (Sanhedrin 88b) If this sounds extreme, that just shows how far we have strayed from the ideal.
We left Mitzraim humbled by slavery, carrying our bread on our shoulders. We had nothing except a few possessions and endless gratitude to the Ribono shel Olam, Who had saved us from the fiery furnace and mem-tes sha’are tumah. United by our miraculous delivery, we felt the heartbeat of our brothers and sisters. “Hakodosh Baruch Hu said to Israel: I desire you [as My people] because even at a time when I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before Me.” (Chullin 89a)
Frankly, I feel it is no mystery what is pushing Moshiach away from us. Can he come amidst sinas chinom? We have to stop being naïve. A game of life and death is being played out on this planet and every person is in mortal danger. We are cleaning our houses, looking for crumbs of chometz, which Chazal likens to arrogance. We cannot leave Mitzraim if we are arrogant. We cannot hope for salvation if we act like Paro, who thought he was a god. “Every haughty heart is the abomination of Hashem.” (Mishlei 16:5)
My friends, we are in deep trouble, but, as the Novi says on the most tragic day of the year, “Let him put his mouth to the dust; there may yet be hope” (Eichah 3:29) We need to call out from the Pit and beg Hashem to save us. We do not understand how much we have to do teshuva. But Hashem answers if we call! “Min ha maitzar … from the straits did I call upon Hashem. Hashem answered me with expansiveness.” (Tehillim 118)
We were rescued from mem-tes sha’are tumah, but only because we understood that we stood at mem-tes sha’are tumah. “Hashem Hoshia, Hamelech ya’anainu b’yom korainu … Hashem save! May the King answer us on the day we call!” (Tehillim 20:10)
* * * *
Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2017 by Roy S. Neuberger