“And now, you did not send me here, but Hashem, and He placed me as a father to Pharaoh, and a master over all his household, and ruler over the entire land of Mitzrayim.” (Bereishis 45:8)
ook at how Yosef comforted his brothers. They were feeling terrible about selling him. But he made them feel this was the best thing that could have happened, stressing that Hashem runs the world.
Occasionally, someone comes to apologize to you for wronging you and you answer, “Ah! You didn’t do anything wrong. No need to apologize.”
It looks like you’re a really nice person — you don’t even feel wronged.
But in reality, by invalidating a person’s apology, you’re making him feel worse. Now he’s in your debt with no way to make it up to you. (Rav Yerucham Levovitz, Daas Torah)
Nobody’s perfect. Except I used to teach with a perfect person. Penina Perfect was one of those people who are organized and dedicated, warm and wise. Her classes were meticulously prepared, and her handouts, works of art. On the domestic front, she was a superb mother, made scrumptious decorated cakes for simchahs, and was an active part of many chesed organizations.
She was the type of person you’d like to dislike, but even that wasn’t possible. Her personality was so genuine and captivating that despite her flawlessness, you were drawn to her friendliness.
Similarly, we find that if someone does us a favor, we want to repay him. There are those who consider themselves such “baalei chesed” that they refuse to accept a favor in return.
However, it’s actually an obligation to accept a return favor so the person you helped doesn’t feel constantly obligated to you.
I was in awe of Mrs. Perfect. Did I want to be like her? I definitely admired her ability to manage so much and still be a mensch. Yet somehow, I always felt a bit uncomfortable around her.
All of us teachers enjoyed a lovely camaraderie. We commiserated about children’s teething and tantrums, celebrated each other’s simchahs and milestones, and were sounding boards and advisers. We shared recipes, borrowed pens and pennies, and covered for each other at times of unexpected absence.
All of us except Penina. Sure, she shared recipes and was always the first to bake a cake for a simchah. But in the give-and-take of borrowing, lending, and filling in, she only filled one role: the giver.
Penina was always there with a spare pen, spare change, spare time, yet she never asked for a favor in return. As a result, I found myself avoiding her offers of assistance. It was awkward to always be the taker.
This is the concept behind mitzvos. Hashem obviously doesn’t need anything from us. Yet in His chesed, He doesn’t want us to feel low about constantly accepting from Him in every aspect of our lives. Therefore, He set up the world in a way that we can feel as if we are giving back to Him.
One wet winter morning I staggered into the teachers’ room and dumped my soggy bag onto the nearest chair. I tried to rearrange my soaked sheitel into some semblance of presentable, but I felt like a drowned rat.
Then I noticed I wasn’t alone in the room. Penina was there, but I almost didn’t recognize her. Oh, her sheitel was dry — obviously, she’d remembered to bring a hat, while I, of course, hadn’t been able to find one. But still, something was awry. Her eyes had a slightly panicked look and she seemed discombobulated.
“Sure.” She licked her lips nervously. “It’s just that I left my bag in the taxi this morning and I can’t seem to track it down.”
“Oh, how terrible! Been there, done that. Do you even have your phone? Here, take mine. Do you need some extra cash?” I started rummaging through my soggy wallet, trying to see if any shekel bills had survived today’s deluge.
“Thank you,” she said as she took my offering. “I, uh, really appreciate it.”
Her voice was a bit hesitant and I could tell she really wasn’t used to being on the receiving end.
“Let me know if you need anything else. I’m happy to help.”
And I was. Because finally, I felt comfortable with Penina. She was also human, and we humans like to help each other out. I beg to disagree with Shakespeare. It’s important to both a borrower and lender be.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 674)
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