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when honor is called for
middot honor stories when honor is called for

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when honor is called for

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-angerIn Jerusalem long ago, an incredible incident took place in the office of a gemach (Jewish free loan fund, acronym of gemilut chasadim, acts of kindness). Customarily, the various gemachs in Jerusalem were all open on Thursdays, to be available to people who needed to borrow money for food for Shabbat. By Thursday night, all the gemach offices would be closed, mainly because money that had been available for the week was already gone.

One gemach, however, remained open on Friday mornings. The compassionate and sympathetic Reuven kept his gemach open, just in case someone needed him at the last minute. True, there was not so much money left by Friday, but he felt that one never knew who might be in desperate need. One Friday, when all the gemachs were closed except for Reuven’s, a young married man came in and asked for money for his family’s Shabbat food.

Reuven recognized the man for he had just been at the gemach the day before, and said, “If I remember correctly, you were here just yesterday.”

The young man’s face became flushed with anger. “Are you trying to tell me that I don’t need the money?” he fumed. “No, we are not saying that at all …” explained Reuven.

“Well, then lend me the money that I need! I already have cosigners for surety.”

Reuven looked at the young man compassionately and explained that it was the policy of the gemach not to lend twice within such a short period. The young man was enraged. Yelling, he stormed toward Reuven and slapped him across the face! The gentle Reuven stood there in shock and disbelief. No one had ever had the audacity to scream at him, let alone slap him.

Reuven’s assistant stepped forward to retaliate, but Reuven held him back. “Wait a moment,” Reuven said to the young man, “I’ll be back with the money right away.” He gave the bills to the young man and wished him well. The young man thanked him and left.

Because of the noise and commotion a few neighbors had gathered in the office to see what had happened. “If I were in your shoes,” one man shouted, “after such humiliation I would have demanded that he give back the money you had lent him yesterday, and pushed him out the door!”

Reuven, whose face still stung from the slap, explained. “I know this fellow. Under normal circumstances he would never have acted this way. He must be having such terrible problems that he lost himself completely. It’s because he did behave in such an unnatural way that I realized how desperate his position is. Now, more than ever, is the time to help him, and not be angry at him. So I went out of my way for him.” --Rabbi Paysach Krohn, The Maggid Speaks, pp. 86-87

Judaism says that anger can be completely transcended, even in the most extreme circumstances. And indeed, every once in a while, this transcendance of an individual is so outstanding that it serves as an example of what we can all achieve if we look into a situation with deeper eyes. If we look hard enough, we might find that there are times when we can honor someone by having compassion, even when it appears that they should, on the surface, be not deserving of such treatment.  With our middot in check and our eyes and souls spiritually tuned, we can react to any situation with the highest of character.

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