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A Free Sermon?

Friday, 1 May, 2020 - 5:17 am

 Once upon a time there was a holy rabbi, who would never give a drasha (sermon) without pay.

His prices weren’t high, and he wasn’t exactly a materialistic person. He was a holy Jew by the name of Rabbi Mendel Borer, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov; the Baal Shem Tov himself called him “the holy rabbi, a special one in a generation, a man of G-d.” And yet, he would not give a drasha without getting paid up front.

This sounds strange when you’re talking about a Jew on such a high level, but he had a fascinating explanation: “Who am I to rebuke another Jew? What right do I have to do it? When the Temple stood, there was a prophet who was commanded by Hashem to bring His word to the people, and also to speak harshly if necessary. But today, when we don’t have such orders, I am willing to speak and give my opinion about various behaviors of others only if I am obligated to do so.

“And so, when I am given a few coins for the drasha, then I am obligated to speak. Why? Because according to the Torah I am obligated to provide a living for my household. My profession is that of a darshan. In other words, the tool by which I provide a living for my family is the drasha, and when I am paid for it, I am not allowed to refuse. Moreover, I must speak, and I am performing a mitzvah.”

The Rebbe brought this story on the 21st of Av, 5744 (1984), asking and indeed calling out in pain to the people not to rebuke and not to speak harshly about another Jew or with one, as long as Hashem Himself has not requested that one do so.

The Rebbe was actually saying: Do not choose for yourself the doubtful honor of being the one who castigates and berates, the one who criticizes and emphasizes the bad. Speak good, not bad.

Rabbi Beni Wolf, who died last Shabbat in Hanover, was an ordinary, standard Jew – the most ordinary there is. Not especially holy and not a wondrous tzaddik. A G-d-fearing Chassidic Jew; of course, a shaliach of the Rebbe, but unpretentious. In the matter of rebuke and criticism, he was very special, at least in my opinion. He was very careful not to hurt people, not to say biting comments. He did not spend his time rebuking others. In truth, as much as I can recall, I do not remember him as being one of those who were busy criticizing and warning.

On this Shabbat, when we read parashat Acharei Mot Kedoshim, including the passuk “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” I wish to take upon myself and to suggest all my dear readers to stop and think before we speak about another person, before we write to someone, before we click on “send”, and make sure that the message is in keeping with “You shall love your fellow as yourself.”

 

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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