On Monday evening, August 29, Rabbi Avraham Nissanian, well-known speaker and founder of Eshel Avraham, shared a virtual shiur on behalf of the organization. He began by wishing everyone a sweet and fruitful end of the year and a sweet new year.
“We have to work hard on forgiving each other,” he said. “It’s very hard to do.” What does it mean to be mighty? Who is mightiest of all? He shared a mashal of a donkey that is skinny and carries a lot of weight, but the mule is stronger than the donkey. The elephant can carry even bigger things. Then the lion is the king of the jungle. Who said only strength makes you mighty? A general in an army uses his brain and he controls others. Our chachamim say that a mighty man is one who subdues his evil inclination. “A person who is able to control himself is greater than a general who conquers cities. Strength is not measured by how much weight you can carry, but rather by the ability to control anger and desires.”
When someone insults or hurts us, our evil inclination whispers that we should take vengeance on him, so he won’t keep doing this. We want to teach him a lesson; otherwise, he becomes the winner. When we think this way, we have to stop and focus on our priorities and make sure they are in order. We have to remember what the real reward is, which lasts forever, instead of a moment of revenge. If we put things in the right perspective, we will receive the answer that it is better to remain silent than to open our mouth. “Whoever forgoes injustice done to him, then Hashem foregoes punishment for all his sins.”
If someone put you down and you didn’t respond, then in Heaven, measure for measure, all of your sins are forgiven. “By not answering back, you gain years.” Rabbi Nissanian pointed out that today there are so many things that shorten life. “Imagine that you are in control of yourself. You can have longevity with a good life with children and grandchildren who respect you.” Is it better to take revenge or to live a long life?
Rav Huna was very ill, and they were preparing shrouds for him. To the surprise of everyone, he was healed and lived a long life after this illness. When asked how this was possible, he explained that there was a decree of death on him, but G-d said that because he forgave bad things people did to him, then Hashem let him live.
Rabbi Nissanian shared the teaching that the world endures only in the merit of one who restrains himself during a quarrel. Imagine if you restrain yourself during a fight, how many living beings owe their lives to you.
He shared another teaching that those who are insulted and do not insult others and they don’t respond out of love for Hashem, they are like the sun, which goes forth in its might. Why is this person compared to the sun? The sun warms the universe and it can melt ice. Someone who is patient and in control may look like he is the loser, but he is the one who slowly melts people’s anger against him and he warms everyone like the sun.
Rabbi Nissanian shared the famous midrash that the sun and moon were both created as equally sized kings in the beginning. However, the moon complained and the sun heard this but the sun did not answer back to the moon. The result was that the sun stayed the same size as he was originally created, but the moon was reduced in size.
He then shared a story that happened to Rav Aryeh Levin. Rav Aryeh used to give out aliyos in his shul. One day he gave an aliyah to someone and one of the congregants became angry. This man became so angry that he lost control. He threw away Rav Aryeh’s talis and said to him, “Who gave you authority to give aliyos to people?”
Rav Aryeh was embarrassed in front of the whole congregation, but he remained silent. He decided from then on, in order to avoid any dispute, he would daven elsewhere, and he left this shul where he had davened for many years and went to a different one where he was not the rav of the shul.
A short while later, the person who insulted him became very ill and Rav Aryeh was one of the first to visit him in the hospital. He visited as an old friend and said nothing about what had happened just a few weeks earlier in shul. This person saw Rav Aryeh’s greatness and begged him to forgive him.
As illustrated in the story of the sun and the moon, when someone tries to put another person down, then he becomes the loser. Being put down is actually a gift, because it causes a decree in Heaven to be torn. “When you don’t answer back, expect miracles to happen to you.” Use this power to bless yourself and others. This gives you power like the tzadikim.
We need to remember that the person who hurt us is a messenger from Hashem. If we accept this with love, we gain so much. Rabbi Nissanian then shared that this applies in the home. Save unnecessary words and anger and you will have peace and harmony at home. The statement in the Haggadah says with your blood you will live, and it says it twice. Rav Meir from Lubin taught that your blood in Hebrew has the same root as the word for silent. If you want longevity, then don’t answer back.
He shared a secret for shalom bayis. Bil’am blessed the Jews with Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov. He admired how the openings of their tents did not face one another. There was privacy and modesty. If a person wants peace at home, then he shared that he shouldn’t open his mouth in the wrong way. “Pesach” here meaning opening. When one spouse says something, the other should not answer back. Later, when it’s not the moment of high emotion, you can explain why you were hurt.
In the upcoming year, Hashem takes our efforts during Elul into account. We need to train ourselves to hear and to be quiet. In this merit, we should see all the blessings that we need.
The community thanks Rabbi Nissanian for this beautiful, inspiring shiur.
By Susie Garber