Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Av 5766 - August 23, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Don't Just Sit There

by Bayla Gimmel

A few years ago, there was a popular saying in the States, "Don't just sit there; do something." It is human nature that when events aren't going the way you want them to go — or even when things simply aren't going the way they usually do - - to freeze into a posture of inaction.

The Jewish way is quite different. When we are in a difficult situation, our Torah leaders suggest appropriate actions we can and should take. The list from Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shteineman, with which we are currently working, includes something for everyone. Torah and chessed are basic to our lives and therefore we should certainly work on strengthening them. Shabbos, tzniyus and interpersonal relations are also areas we need to improve.

I was very happy to see the suggestion that we all work to stamp out machloches (dispute and conflicts) in our communities. Disagreements within neighborhoods, apartment buildings and even families can lead to strained, if not broken, relationships.

One of my favorite projects is Mishmeres HaShalom. Once a month, building representatives like me bring around attractive full-color pamphlets to the women in our buildings. The pamphlets are available in a choice of languages, so I can give my Israeli neighbors their pamphlets in Hebrew and then go home to read the articles in my English version. A recent pamphlet zeroed in on the value of vatronos (making concessions) in ending controversy.

There was a beautiful story about a kindergarten teacher who took off a couple of years from her job to care for her premature child. When she felt she was able to go back to teaching, she notified her principal, who promised she could have her old job back for the coming year. The conversation then slipped the principal's mind and she offered the same class to the substitute teacher who had been filling in during the absence.

When the original ganenet heard about the double promise — and the principal's offer to draw lots for the position, she graciously bowed out and gave the job to the substitute. This prevented a major conflict that could have turned the school into a war zone, with everyone taking sides and adding their two cents worth.

The first teacher took a lesser job as a rotating substitute for that year. However, the next year she was rewarded by getting her old class back plus a raise in pay.

The Chofetz Chaim had a wonderful suggestion for avoiding the conflicts that often arise from small financial losses. You know, the kind of losses that are too small to require a judicial ruling via a din Torah but big enough to bother the person who is on the losing end of things.

The Chofetz Chaim pointed out that we are very happy to set aside money at the beginning of the year to buy a beautiful esrog. We should also set aside money for another mitzvah: that of making peace. Put away a hundred or so shekel each year to pay for annoying small losses that might create interpersonal conflicts.

Suppose a neighbor was making a simchah and borrowed one of your trays. She comes to your house to return it. When she knocks on the door, you are in the process of drying the glass vase you use for your Shabbos flowers.

You quickly set the vase down on the edge of your dining table so you can open the door for the visitor. In she comes with the tray and puts it down. That slight jarring of the table knocks over the vase which falls to the floor and breaks into more pieces than you can count, let alone put together.

Instead of apologizing or offering to pay for the vase, the neighbor looks down at the broken glass and says to you, "That's a pretty stupid place to put a vase! Do you want me to help you sweep it up?" After this insightful comment, she thanks you for the use of the tray and sweeps out the door.

Now you know you aren't going to go to beis din to try to get back the 39 shekel that you will have to pay for a new vase, but the loss doesn't make you very fond of this neighbor. You have two choices. You can stew about it and maybe spend the afternoon telling your best friend, your mother and six other people about the terrible injustice.

When your husband comes home, you can complain to him. Then he can snub the neighbor's husband while you give the neighbor herself the silent treatment every time you pass on the stairs. For good measure, you can talk about it in front of your children so they can go after the neighbor's youngsters. With enough righteous indignation, you can start a minor war right in your building.

Or . . . you can select Option Number Two. You can keep your mouth tightly buttoned, take 39 shekel out of your "Shalom Fund," buy a new vase, and forget the entire incident.

There are a host of minor things that can cause friction among neighbors. For many people, one of the big mysteries of life is, "Where does all that dark, soapy water go after you push it into the sponga hole?" When we had been here in Israel for just a short while, we were privileged to find out the answer to that one.

One of our sons got married and rented a small apartment on the fourth floor of an old building near his yeshiva in B'nei Brak. The new couple was coming to spend Succos with our family in Yerushalayim. The young bride dutifully cleaned up the apartment and shortly before they left, she did one last floorwash. As she finished, there was the sound of hasty footsteps coming up the stairs.

The neighbor from the first floor knocked on the door and asked my son if he could please come downstairs to help with something in his sukkah. Assuming that the man needed an extra pair of hands to lift a heavy board or two, my son followed him down the stairs.

When they entered the succah porch, the neighbor wordlessly pointed to his succah and then upward, where my son could clearly see the sponga water dripping through the bamboo s'chach. The water that had already landed in the succah had not exactly enhanced its decor. My son apologized profusely and promised not to put any water down the hole, at least not until after the holiday.

The newlyweds did some research and found that you can clean floors quite adequately with just a few cups of water. Then you can scoop up any remaining water and direct it into a dustpan, and from there back into the pail, all before it gets as far as the sponga hole, or, alternately, use less and just soak it up with the floor-rag.

I have since heard many tales of sponga water coming down on porches and balconies, dripping all over freshly washed laundry, and ruining plants in gardens. In a building near ours, the sponga water from two of the upper apartments flows through a short pipe that then empties onto the communal staircase used by the people who live on the lower level.

If people are coming up the stairs at the wrong time, they may have to go back home and change out of their splashed and spoiled clothing before proceeding out of the building! You can imagine this does not engender warm feelings among the neighbors.

The floor cleaners are not at all malicious. They are just doing what the contractor expected them to do, namely directing their sponga water into the holes he provided. However, just the simple act of scooping up dirty water with a dustpan instead can make all of the difference in the world when it comes to interpersonal relationships within a building.

If they can't teach old dogs new tricks, perhaps a couple of families can pool their yearly Shalom funds and pay for a plumber to fix the problem. Either way is better than just ignoring things and allowing machloches to reign.

So don't just sit there. Do something positive and constructive to improve the various interpersonal relationships in your life.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.