Friday, February 21, 2020

Parshas Mishpatim Divrei Torah and Insights 5780

בּ"ה
Parshas Mishpatim

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And these are the Laws [המשפטים] that you shall place before them.  If you will buy a Hebrew slave. . .’ (Shemos 21:1-2)
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The question is often raised; what is the significance of the fact that right after the giving of the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments), the Torah begins discussing. . . laws of the Eved Ivri (Jewish slave), and laws of theft and damages?  Wouldn’t we expect it to be more “spiritual” topics, so to speak?  And also, why specifically is the law of the Eved Ivri first of all the important Laws in this Parsha?

1) ----- Chasam Sofer {HaRav Moshe Sofer zt”l}:  Rashi zt”l (21:2) explains from Mechilta that this person -- the future Eved Ivri -- stole money and didn’t have enough money to pay back the victim of his theft, so the court sold him into slavery. 

By way of analogy:  The father of a sick child will always be thinking about that child.  He thinks about this child in a sense more than all of his other children.  

So too here:  Hashem is our Father.  He is intensely concerned about this child who listened to their yetzer hara and stole.  It’s almost like Hashem says, “I need to deal with him first.  He needs help.” Therefore, immediately after Matan Torah, the Torah discusses the thief, and what can be done to help him repent and become a righteous person. (Brought in Torah Wellsprings).

2) ----- HaRav Shlomo Yosef Zevin zt”l:  The first word of this Parsha is ‘ואלה -- And these’.  And Rashi zt”l brings from Mechilta that wherever it says ‘ואלה -- And these’, it adds onto [i.e. is very connected to] what came before.  Just as what came before -- the Aseres HaDibros -- were from Sinai, so too these Commandments in our Parsha are from Sinai (Midrash Tanchuma).

Explains Rav Zevin zt”lMishpatim are the Laws governing behavior between a person and their fellow (‘bein adam la’chaveiro’).  And the nations of the world also have set laws in this regard.  But the difference between our Laws -- the Torah -- and theirs, is in the little letter Vav at the beginning of this Parsha; the letter Vav that adds on to what came before.  Because with us, even the laws bein adam la’chaveiro were commanded by Hashem at Sinai; but with them, their rules are “common courtesy”, since people agree that society can’t endure without some rules.

The difference is huge:  These man-made laws of theirs won’t stand in the face of the yetzer hara.  When there is any sort of test, etc. people will break all of them and find all kinds of excuses to bypass them or completely nullify them.  Rivers of innocent blood have been shed by these once-courteous people, even though they all recognize that it is wrong to kill. By us, however, the bein adam la’chaveiro laws are not just proper conduct -- they are Commandments of Hashem!  And this gives them sturdy strength and firmness. Just like the Torah is eternal; so too the Mishpatim of the Torah are eternal. . . (LaTorah V’LaMoadim on beginning of our parsha).

Similarly, HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt”l explains that the civil statutes of the nations are in general based on their own agreement and decisions regarding what is best for that particular situation and time, but thus, they change quite frequently, depending on when the situation, etc. changes, and also based on if their own minds change.

However, with our societal laws, they are not based on human logic or knowledge, but they are straight from Hashem Himself at Sinai. (Daas Torah on 21:1).1

3) ----- HaRav Nosson Scherman shlit”a:  The juxtaposition of this Sidrah (dealing primarily with civil and tort law) with the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Altar provides a startling insight into Judaism.  To Hashem, there is no realm of “religion” in the colloquial sense of the word. Most people think of religion as a matter of only ritual and spirituality.  The Torah knows no such distinction. To the contrary, all areas of life are intertwined and holiness derives from halachically correct business dealings no less than from piety in matters of ritual. (The Stone Edition Chumash).

4) ----- HaRav Elchonon Sorotzkin zt”l:  The first law of these Mishpatim that the Torah gets into is the Eved Ivri, warning us to be kind to him, and treat him properly, etc.  But the question is; why wouldn’t this law be put at the end of these Mishpatim -- or, at the very least, not at the beginning?  For, at this point, any Jewish master would have somewhat recently left from being a slave themselves in Egypt!  Certainly he would still be able to taste and understand the life of a slave, and thus would certainly not be unduly harsh or oppressive!  So why was this rule put at the very beginning?

But Hashem descends to the depths of a human being’s mind and and nature, and reveals to us the sad truth that in a lot of cases, the slave of yesterday can easily become the harsh master of today -- even though he still understands what it is like to feel this treatment.  In our days we see a very good example: One-time employees who become a “big boss” often times suddenly forget about all the ideals that they were fighting for before, and can quickly become a harsh and bad boss -- the kind they would have hated previously. Even though they can well feel the situation they are now putting the underlings in, since they themselves were once in such a situation. . .

Therefore, the Torah has to warn us in a stringent manner against falling prey to this, and thus, it puts it among the first laws commanded after the Aseres HaDibros. (Oznayim LaTorah on 21:2).

5) ----- Tal U’Matar:  Let’s start out with three points: #1, What is a slave?  Someone who has to do someone else’s will instead of theirs.  They have less Mitzvos, and they also have to take more time working for their human master -- and have less time to serve the Real Master, as is discussed. #2, The Sages tell us that this person who was a Jewish Slave had to become one because they stole and could not pay back (see above).  And #3, the Rambam zt”l (Hilchos Geirushin 2:20) tells us that, in truth, we don’t actually want to do things that are wrong.  But we sometimes (from the yetzer hara) try to force ourselves to go against our true will and desire, and go and do a bad thing.

Putting all these together, in the first Commandment of this parsha, Hashem wants to teach us what freedom is:  He wants to let us know that we have the choice to be free -- to do what is right.  But, on the other hand, to have to listen to a human being (including our own body and materiality) instead of Hashem, Chas v’Shalom, is being a slave.  

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1 Very fitting here is the opening comment of Rabbeinu Ovadyah of Bartenura zt”l on Pirkei Avos:  Why does this Masechta begin by telling us that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai?  Because this Masechta is not as much about the laws of Commandments so much as it is about ethics and proper middos.  Now, the non-Jewish philosophers and wise men also wrote books on morals and ethics -- from their contemplations how a person should behave.  

Therefore, Avos begins by telling us that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai -- meaning to say that even these ethics and middos are not just things the Rabbis of the Mishnah deemed correct; they are rather from Hashem Himself, Who said them over at Sinai.

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And his master shall bore his ear with an awl (Shemos 21:6)
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This verse refers to what happened to the Eved Ivri if he decided that he wished -- after his full six-year term -- to stay with his master, instead of going out free.  One of the opinions which Rashi zt”l brings (from Kiddushin 22b) is that of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who says that the ear that heard ‘You shall not steal’ at Har Sinai, and then went and stole (and that is why this person had to become a slave in the first place -- see above) should be bored with an awl.

Asks HaRav Dov Weinberger shlit”a two questions; #1, even though this ear heard on Har Sinai that it is forbidden to steal, why was it specifically the thing that “received a punishment”, and not the limbs that actually stole, for example?  And #2, why only now, when he decides not to go free, is his ear bored with an awl?  

Explains Rav Weinberger, truthfully, there were some things that were made easier as an Eved Ivri.  His master had to treat him very nicely.  He didn’t have to provide a livelihood for his family.   He wasn’t obligated in as many Mitzvos, etc.  

But when the opportunity arose to go free, to become a free man once again, and this servant decided in favor of the somewhat easier lifestyle rather than freedom, he is effectively saying that he doesn’t want any more responsibility, and he doesn’t feel the need to ascend at all.  He doesn’t want to hear more Mitzvos to have to do.  He doesn’t want to hear about any more responsibilities.  He is happy just staying on his somewhat low level.  At that point, he is worthy to have his ear -- and specifically his ear, as we explained -- bored with an awl.

(Shemen HaTov on 21:6)

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מכה איש ומת מות יומת -- One who strikes a man and he [the victim] dies, shall surely be put to death’ (Shemos 21:12)
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In the Hebrew text, the majority of the words in the entire verse come from the root-word מת (death).  This alludes to us just how bad hitting a fellow Jew (without the best reasons) is. . .

(Tal U’Matar)

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‘ורפא ירפא’ (Shemos 21:19)
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These words Targum Onkelos (as explained by Rashi zt”l) renders ‘And he [the assailant] shall pay the doctor’s fee’.  From here permission was given to doctors to try to cure people (Bava Kamma 85b).

One time, somebody came before the Vilna Gaon zt”l, and told him about a certain ill person, regarding whom the doctor had given up hope of a cure, and was certain that he would not survive.

The Gaon answered; “Who gave permission to a doctor for this?  Wasn’t it said that permission was given to a doctor to heal -- not to say that there is no cure for his sickness. . .”

(Divrei Eliyahu p. 23)

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The Laws of Damages:

This parsha deals a lot with the matter of damages.  The laws of how one must treat their fellow and their property, and the penalty or punishment imposed if a person causes damage to them.

HaRav Menachem HaBavli zt”l explains that the Torah teaches that if we cause a little damage to something which is not our own, then we must make restitution.  So how much more so, someone who does many sins, which damage the entire world in certain ways, would be obligated to “make restitution”, unless they fix their mistakes and do Teshuva

(Taamei HaMitzvos #17)

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HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l used to say:  For this reason, we customarily begin to learn with little children the laws of damages, in order to get them used to these concepts when they are very young.  Because, if not, when they grow up, these laws will be strange to them, and they won’t be able to understand why a person must make restitution, if, for example, his cat or rooster caused damage.  

(Tenuas HaMussar in HaMeoros HaGedolim p. 78)

It is related, in fact, that the question was once posed to HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, if the teachers could begin to teach the young students other subjects first, instead.  And Rav Moshe replied that to teach them laws of damages first is an old custom, and therefore, we should not change it, due to the paramount importance of honesty in monetary matters and care when handling the money of others.

(Yam Simcha p. 181)

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The first Mishnah in Bava Kamma teaches us that there are four primary damagers (at least most of which are spoken about in this parsha):  The ox/bull, the pit, the maveh (either a human being or a tooth), and a fire.  These allude to the main categories of bad traits that the yetzer hara tries to make us adopt.  In general terms, the ox/bull, maveh, and fire represent active damaging middos, and the pit represents a passive damaging middah.  A great example is being morose often.  One of the great Baalei Mussar used to say that a person walking around with a frown is like a pit in a public place.  It is liable to make others feel less cheerful, as well. (See also Nesivos Shalom, for another explanation on what these damagers represent).  

Of course, as the Gemara details, each one of these primary categories of damagers has subcategories.  And the thing in common -- as the Mishnah teaches -- between them all, is that it is incumbent on the owner to guard them, and if they do get out and cause damage, the owner of them is obligated to make restitution.  So too, in our own selves, we have general categories of bad traits that we must overcome and guard against, and then the specific ones, as well. But they all have one thing in common:  We -- the owner -- are obligated to guard against them and keep them in check. And we must make amends and do teshuva if, Chas v’Shalom, we do slip and let one of them get out and damage. . .

(Tal U’Matar)

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Every widow and orphan you shall not oppress. (Shemos 22:21)
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This prohibition against oppressing applies to anybody, just the Torah spoke of what is most common -- since widows and orphans are generally more vulnerable, a lot of people unfortunately take advantage of them and oppress them (Rashi zt”l from Mechilta).

HaRav Shimshon Dovid Pincus zt”l elaborates on this:  The general practice of people is to be extremely careful when it comes to great and respected persons, taking pains to not cause them any distress, and to try to get them whatever it is that they want.

But when it comes to “ordinary” people, and especially someone who is lowly in the eyes of society, like poor people, unlearned people, etc. even if someone goes to help them, generally it is not done in the most friendly and respectful manner, e.g. making them wait, or only speaking with them briefly.

But how wonderful are the words of our passuk!  They teach us to try to not cause pain to any human being, no matter what their standing is.  And furthermore, that we must be especially careful to not cause pain to those who are considered somewhat lowly or of less eminence!

(Tiferes Shimshon on 22:21-23)

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When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you (Shemos 22:24)
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What does it mean ‘the poor person who is with you’?  The Maaseh Rokeach explains that HaKadosh Baruch Hu apportions funds to people for safekeeping, as it were, on condition that they use them and apportion them to others generously and properly.  Therefore, a wealthy person -- as well as everyone else -- must remember that their abundance of money is not necessarily just theirs; it is also meant for the poor. ‘The poor person[‘s money] is with you’! 

(Brought in Maayanah Shel Torah; Shemos, p. 101)

Another wonderful lesson from this verse:  The Mishnah (Avos 6:9) teaches us that when a person leaves this world, neither silver nor gold goes with them, but only Torah and good deeds.  Based on this, the Kotzker Rebbe zt”l elucidates our verse:  The word used for lending (תלוה) also has the same root as escorting (מלוה).  We thus see that the only money that will escort a person and go with them after they pass on from this world is ‘the poor’ -- i.e. what they gave to the poor and needy.  Only that is truly ‘with you’, and only that will you take ‘with you’.

(Ohel Torah #80)

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And holy people you shall be to Me (Shemos 22:30)
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Very famously, the Kotzker Rebbe zt”l stresses that the verse puts emphasis on the words ‘holy people’.  Hashem wants us to be holy in a human way.  As the Sfas Emes zt”l explains, Hashem has enough angels; He wants us to be holy people, utilizing and elevating the physical things, as well, to His service.

(Sfas Emes; Shemos, 5632)

It is possible to explain this emphasis of holy people in another way, as well:  Hashem wants holy people. Not holy robots. True, you could give a robot a list of a lot of Commandments to do, and at times it might even perform them better than a human being.  But it cannot do them with passion, or closeness to Hashem.  Hashem doesn’t want us to do the Mitzvos just robotically, but rather, with the heart and feeling in them!

(Tal U’Matar)

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If you will encounter the ox of your enemy -- or his donkey -- wandering, you shall surely return it to him.  If you will see the donkey of your enemy crouching under its burden, and you will stop [yourself] from helping him?!  You shall surely help with him [the owner]! (Shemos 23:4-5)
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We find a very similar verse to this one in Parshas Ki Seitzei, but speaking of an animal that was cast off.  And the Ramban zt”l over there speaks about how ‘cast off’ can imply that it strayed from the path. (See his words).

Says the Chofetz Chaim zt”l:  If the Torah is so very concerned for a Jews’ lost property, and we are commanded to set it back on the right path and return it to them -- how much more so the person themselves!  If, Rachmana Litzlan, a Jew has wandered away from the proper path, we must do our utmost to return them and set them back on the right course! 

(Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah on 23:4)

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If we go back to Parshas Vayechi, when Yaakov Avinu blessed his sons before he died, we see that he blessed Yissachar that he is like a חמר גרם -- some type of donkey (see the commentators’ explanations).  And Rashi zt”l brought from Midrash Bereishis Rabbah that this means that he will carry the Yoke of Torah just like a strong donkey carries a burden.  

Connecting this idea to our verse, we can see a wonderful lesson:  The Torah discusses in this case ‘the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden’.  This can allude to the carrying the Yoke of Torah, i.e. they are, Rachmana Litzlan, having trouble with their carrying of it -- like it says ‘crouching under its burden’.  And the Torah teaches us that even if we dislike this person, if they are having trouble with their Torah, such as having trouble with keeping the Commandments or the like, we must help them!  Even if we hate them because they do bad things (see the Gemara), then all the more so should we help them to do better things! 

A proof for this is that the Torah says that we have to ‘help with him’.  Because if this person refuses, Chas v’Shalom, to let you help them, then how will you help them?  We are supposed to help with the person, because if they won’t try to pick themselves back up with us, then we can barely help at all (see Gemara Bava Metzia 32b, early in the amud).  It is up to each individual whether they want to become a better person, but we should try to help them do it. . .

Different methods are needed for different situations, though:  This is hinted to in the double usage ‘You shall surely help -- עזב תעזב’.  And we need to know and figure out, with Hashem’s Help, how to help each individual person according to what kind of a person they are.  Based on that, we can know what kind of method to use to bring them closer to Hashem and His Torah.

(Tal U’Matar)

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You shall stay far away from a false word -- מדבר שקר תרחק’ (Shemos 23:7)
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The Rebbe Reb Zusha zt”l explains to us that there is another way we can read the above verse:  ‘From a false word, you will go far away’ -- i.e. if, Chas v’Shalom we say a false thing, it pushes us away from Hashem!

(Heard from my Rebbe, HaRav Moshe Shulman shlit”a)

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The Chofetz Chaim zt”l notes that regarding no other sin does the Torah stress that we must stay far away from it -- only falsehood.  We see from here how very much we must distance ourselves from falsehood, and flee from it. 

(Sfas Tamim; end of ch. 6)

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And he [Moshe Rabbeinu] took the Book of the Covenant, and he read it in the ears of the People, and they said, “All that Hashem spoke we will do and we will listen (נעשה ונשמע)” (Shemos 24:7)
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Rabbi Simai taught:  At the time that Bnei Yisroel said ‘Naaseh -- We will do’ before ‘Nishma -- We will listen’, [beautifully saying that they would do Hashem’s Commandments, before they even heard what they would be! (Rashi zt”l)], 600,000 Ministering Angels came down and attached to each Jew two crowns; one corresponding to Naaseh and one corresponding to Nishma.

But when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, 1,200,000 Angels descended and removed the crowns. . .

Reish Lakish said:  In the future, HaKadosh Baruch Hu will return these crowns to us, as it says (Yeshayahu 35:10), ‘And the redeemed of Hashem shall return, and they shall come to Tziyon with song, and joy from old2 upon their heads’.  The joy from days of old will be upon their heads.

(Gemara Shabbos 88a)

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2 Translation of Rashi zt”l.

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There are many beautiful elucidations as to the deeper significance of the words Naaseh v’Nishma.  Below are a couple:

Rebbe Menachem Nachum of Tchernobyl zt”l explains:  Although we should try to be as close to Hashem as possible as much as possible, in most cases, there are some times when we feel closer to Him and higher up, and then there are times when we feel somewhat lower down, and not as close to Him.  But even those times when one feels not-as-close to Hashem, and not on as high of a level, they must strengthen themselves and try to ascend back up to Him.  

This is what the Bnei Yisroel implied in their beautiful statement: ‘We will do’ -- even if we aren’t on as high of a level, or Chas v’Shalom, we fall from one, we will still continue trying to fulfill the Mitzvos and ascend higher. ‘And we will listen’ -- נשמע has an implication of understanding; meaning that from continuing to try do good and rise up, even when we don’t feel so uplifted, we will come to an even higher level than we were on before! (Me’or Einayim on beginning of Yisro).

HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk zt”l, however, explains like this:  When Bnei Yisroel said ‘We will do’, they were referring to the fact they would accept everything they were told at that time.  When they said ‘And we will listen’, they were referring to the future -- that they would listen to and obey the words of the Sages of every generation. (Beis HaLevi al HaTorah on 19:5)

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~ Maasim Tovim ~

This week, the 25th of Shevat, was the yartzeit of HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt”l.  Actually, it is related that the students of Rav Yisroel calculated that until Moshiach comes, his (Rav Yisroel’s) yartzeit will always be in the week of Parshas Mishpatim.  And they explained that most of Rav Yisroel’s mussar teachings were about Mishpatim, the laws of the Torah regarding monetary matters and things between a person and their fellow, therefore it is fitting that his yartzeit should always be in the week that we read about these rules.

The following is just one of many examples of how he himself embodied extreme care and concern for others:

One of the prominent students of Rav Yisroel once invited him to visit for Shabbos.  To the Rav’s reply that he didn’t accept an invitation to be a guest anywhere before he knew how the house and table were conducted, the student assured him that his home was run in accordance with the fine points of Halacha:  The meat was purchased from a certain butcher who was renowned for his fear of Heaven; the cook was a righteous, modest woman, the widow of a Torah scholar -- and not only that, but his wife would go in and out with “open eyes”, to make sure everything was good.  The Shabbos evening meal itself, the student described glowingly: They would speak words of Torah between courses; they would learn some Shulchan Aruch; zemiros were sung, and with all this, the meal would last until a very late hour of the night!

After hearing all the details, Rav Yisroel accepted the invitation -- but with one condition:  The Shabbos evening meal had to be shortened by two hours. Having no choice, the student agreed to this.

Shabbos arrived, and at the evening meal, things were very rushed.  Courses were served one after another and before an hour was even up, they were ready to wash mayim acharonim before saying Birkas HaMazon.  

Before they began to bentch, the student turned to Rav Yisroel, and posed his pressing question: “Rebbe, what defect did you find in the conduct of my table?” Rav Yisroel did not reply, but instead, asked to have the cook brought in.  When she came, he said to her, “Please forgive me, ma’am, for having tired you this evening -- because of me you had to hurry and bring course after course without any break!”

“All the berachos should be on the head of the Rebbe!” replied the cook. “If only his honor would visit our house every Shabbos evening!  The head of the household usually draws out the meal until a late hour of the night, and I am exhausted from my day’s work, to the point that my legs literally stagger from the immense fatigue.  And thanks to the Rebbe, the evening has been quick, and I am already free to go home and rest!”

Rav Yisroel now turned back to his student, and said, “In the answer of this poor widow, you will also find the answer to your own question:  Indeed, your conduct is very wonderful. But that is only the case if it does not cause harm to others!”

(Tenuas HaMussar, brought in HaMeoros HaGedolim p. 83-84)

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Another story having to do with Rav Yisroel zt”l’s yartzeit and also extreme care and concern for others’ feelings -- this one that I was personally part of:

It was about to be Rav Yisroel’s yartzeit, and I told this to my great Rebbe u’Mori, HaRav Elyakim Rosenblatt zt”l.   So he asked me something like if I was going to do something special for it.  I replied that I was going to type up a story about Rav Yisroel and send it out to people.  From what I remember, Rabbeinu (Rav Rosenblatt) laughed his soft, wonderful and friendly laugh -- as if to say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” -- and he politely asked if maybe I wanted to also study some of Rav Yisroel’s teachings for it.  

Although obviously, his idea was a much more fitting idea, he didn’t put it like that or brush my thought aside as worse, but merely suggested something nicely.  This care, concern, love and warmth for others was virtually always exuded by Rabbeinu zt”l.

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I was once zoche to be driven around a little by Rabbeinu (from his Yeshiva to his home, and back).  And when you watched him drive, you could sense his extreme carefulness.  He didn’t drive above the speed limit, or cut people off, or anything like that.  

And when he had to parallel park, it was an extremely tight space to get into, with cars all around.  But he maneuvered the minivan very carefully and skillfully, and parked it in the space without even so much as bumping or scratching any other car.  Even in his driving and parking you could sense how much care he took not to cause damage to something that belonged to another.

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Gut and meaningful Shabbos to all!