Monday, December 6, 2010

Rambam Yisodei Hatorah Perek 5 Halacha 11: How Righteous People Should Act

I split the Rambam's last halacha in chapter five into two sections. The first section discusses how a righteous wise person should not act and the second section discusses how he or she should act.

ויש דברים אחרים שהן בכלל חילול השם. והוא שיעשה אותם אדם גדול בתורה ומפורסם בחסידות דברים שהבריות מרננים אחריו בשבילם. ואע"פ שאינן עבירות הרי זה חילל את השם כגון שלקח ואינו נותן דמי המקח לאלתר. והוא שיש לו ונמצאו המוכרים תובעין והוא מקיפן. או שירבה בשחוק או באכילה ושתיה אצל עמי הארץ וביניהן. או שדבורו עם הבריות אינו בנחת ואינו מקבלן בסבר פנים יפות אלא בעל קטטה וכעס. וכיוצא בדברים האלו הכל לפי גדלו של חכם צריך שידקדק על עצמו ויעשה לפנים משורת הדין. 

There are other things which also count as a desecration of G-D's Name. [They consist of:] if there is a man that is great in Torah knowledge and it is known that he is pious, if he performs certain actions and others perform these actions simply because he does these things [this is considered a desecration of G-D's name.] Even though these things are not sins, they still count as a desecration of G-D's name. For example, if this righteous man buys something without paying for it immediately in a case where he can afford to pay for it immediately and the seller asks for the money immediately, but this righteous man says "put it on my tab (credit)." Or this righteous man is excessive in joking around. Or this righteous person eats near or among Amei Haaratzim (People of the land). Or if this righteous person speaks to others in a non-calm way without a pleasant face, but [he does speak] in a kurt and angry manner. And other things similar to these examples. [The desecration of G-D's name] is all according to the level of this righteous man's wisdom and he needs to search within himself and [understand how far to] go beyond the letter of the law. 

This last halacha of the Rambam might be the most important one for our everyday lives. It does not discuss clear cut halacha that is saying this is clearly forbidden and this is clearly permitted. Rambam is teaching us that we must use our heads and understand what is considered appropriate behavior for a righteous Jew. Sure, there are no laws being violated when a person puts off payment until later. However, is it right to cause someone else to wait for payment? No one can ever truly know how badly another needs payment. For example, let's say you have a dry cleaners that you think is doing very well. One day you decide not to pay for your dry cleaning, but instead want to put it on credit. What if that dry cleaner lives paycheck to paycheck? You are now causing this dry cleaner to wait for his food for that payment period or some other sorely needed cash. It is not always so simple. A regular person is not expected to be extra sensitive to others needs, but a wise righteous person taints G-D's name when he or she is not sensitive to others because they are considered, as the Maharal tells us in many places, representatives of G-D in this world. People look at wise righteous people as performing G-D's will and G-D is the ultimate compassionate being, so how can those who know His will the best not be compassionate?

The Rambam also speaks about joking around. People look up to wise and righteous people as leaders. For example, would you want a president of anything to be joking around all the time? No, you want someone who is serious, maybe they joke around a little, but they must give off an impression of seriousness and care, not carelessness and laxity.

The Rambam also mentions that a righteous person should not eat among Amei Haaratzim (people of the land) this refers to people that are unlearned and lewd. There are a few reasons that a wise righteous person should not dine with these types of people. The main one is taught in a Mishna in Avos (3:3). It says:

Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1) "Nor sit in the seat of scoffers." But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) "Then those who revered the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name." Scripture speaks here of two. Whence do we learn that if even one sits and occupies himself in the Torah, the Holy One blessed be he, appoints him a reward? Because it is written (Lamentations 3:28) "to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it."

An Am Haaretz is someone who is unable to speak words of Torah, for he does not know of them and does not care to learn them. Therefore, his sessions are considered those that are scornful. A righteous person should not be a part of this type of situation.

The idea of speaking to people in a kurt and angry manner should be obvious. A wise righteous person should always be respectful of others. When a person is kurt and speaks with anger there is no respect, just an aura of haughtiness and impatience. This is not the impression a representative of G-D wants to make on others. Also, it leads to those around you disregarding your opinion. As we will see in the next part of the Rambam's halacha, the wise righteous people that can keep their calm even when they are being insulted themselves show the ultimate respect to those they are conversing with. This shows true respect and will lead to those who originally disregarded what these righteous people said to changing face and now listening to their every word with deep respect.

וכן אם דקדק החכם על עצמו והיה דבורו בנחת עם הבריות ודעתו מעורבת עמהם ומקבלם בסבר פנים יפות ונעלב מהם ואינו עולבם. מכבד להן ואפילו למקילין לו. ונושא ונותן באמונה. ולא ירבה באריחות עמי הארץ וישיבתן. ולא יראה תמיד אלא עוסק בתורה עטוף בציצית מוכתר בתפילין ועושה בכל מעשיו לפנים משורת הדין. והוא שלא יתרחק הרבה ולא ישתומם. עד שימצאו הכל מקלסין אותו ואוהבים אותו ומתאוים למעשיו הרי זה קידש את ה' ועליו הכתוב אומר ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר:

[On the other hand] if the righteous wise man is exacting with himself and he speaks in a calm and collected manner with others, he tries to understand them, appears pleasant to them and allows himself to be insulted WITHOUT INSULTING THEM BACK. He will then be honored by them, even those who did not think highly of him and they will be able to have a conversation with trust. Also, if he does not increase his time on the road of Amei Haaratzim and their dwellings, rather he is only seen dealing with Torah, wrapping himself in Tzitzit (tzistzis), putting on Tefilin, and performing all of his actions beyond the letter of the law. Also, if he does not make himself too distant or withdrawn. [If he performs all of these proper deeds] to the extant that everyone adores and loves him and desires [to follow] his ways, this is a sanctification of G-D's name. On this righteous man the verse says (Yishaya 49:3), "You are My servant, Israel, amongst whom I will be glorified."

The Rambam, in essence, is telling us two ideas. A wise righteous person needs to be consistent and respectful, for that is the only way that others will take him seriously. A person who walks the walk and talks the talk will be respected more than one who says he is righteous, but degrades others and is always seen doing the wrong thing. A righteous person needs to occupy himself with acts of kindness and commandments as well as speak to others with respect. Only then will these righteous individuals be listened to and respected.

As an aside, I would like to say how disappointed I am at the dialogue that goes on today. No matter what the situation, people no longer discuss things respectfully. Everyone is always trying to discredit their rival with ad hominem attacks or completely false accusations. If we would actually listen to one another perhaps there would be more understanding and less abuse. I hope that one day soon we can have real discussions with those we disagree with and not just close our ears to other people's points of view. Let us all, at least, pretend we are righteous and act according to what the Rambam prescribes here.

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