We are currently commemorating a period of mourning for the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who perished during this time. The Talmud tells us that this tragic incident occurred because Rabbi Akiva’s students didn’t  accord each other appropriate honor. In turn, it has become the custom for us to try to utilize this time period between Pesach through Lag B’omer to focus on growing in all of our relationships.

There is a beautiful story told, that Rav Ahron Kotler zt”l, was being driven from Brooklyn to Lakewood. As the car slowed to approach one of the bridges there were a few different booth options available to pay the necessary toll. Some booths were operated by people, and some were operated by machines. Being that the machine booth line was significantly shorter Rav Ahrons driver started to turn toward that booth. At that moment, Rav Ahron protested and said “no, no I want you to go to the other line.”  The driver asked, “why should we go there? That line is so much longer and it’s going to take us longer to get home.”  Rav Ahron responded, “it is true that the machine booth is shorter, however, the other booth is being operated by a person. How do you think that individual feels knowing that his job may be taken over by a machine?  What do you think is going through his mind at this difficult time? The least that we could do for that individual is to go on his line, pay the toll there, and give him a kind word.” Still, despite all that Rav Ahron had going on his day, which included, appointments with his talmidim, preparing shiurim, managing the operations of the yeshiva,  his work on behalf of the Klal Yisrael, he was able to realize that in front of me is a human being, a real person  with sensitivities. He was attune to those feelings, even for a complete stranger, so he made sure to take the extra time it would take to pay in the manned booth. 

During the time right before the sin of the Eigel HaZahav, the golden calf, the Daas Zkeinim Mbaalei Tosfos revealed to us what was  going on in the mind of Ahron Hakohen as he was watching the situation unfold. Aharon understood that since Klal Yisrael thought that Moshe had died and wanted a new leader, he was thinking of the different possibilities of who could be appointed in Moshe’s place. He considered that maybe he himself, should be the one to step up as the new leader of Klal Yisrael, but he rejected that idea because (Hebrew) “Shema Yiksheh Beinei Moshe” maybe it will be difficult in the eyes of Moshe. Maybe it will be painful for Moshe when he comes down and he sees that his brother took his position. It would be insensitive of me to step into his role since, doing so, may cause him to feel bad. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Henach Leibowitz ZT”l, raised a rather pressing difficulty with this Daas Zkeinim. How much pain would Moshe feel already? Moshe Rabbeinu was the humblest of all people. Of course Ahron would explain to him why he did what he did. Further, Aharon would of course step down as soon as Moshe returned? Furthermore, Moshe, following the Halacha in the Torah, would judge favorably and assume that Ahron took the position for the right reasons. That being the case, why did Aharon not temporarily step into this position of leadership during this tumultuous time? He answered that of course, Aaron would explain his intentions to Moshe which would minimize the pain that Moshe would feel. Yet, despite all of those considerations, Aaron believed that he couldn’t cause Moshe even a slight amount of pain, even for a short period of time. He knew that he had to be sensitive to the feelings that Moshe Rabbeinu would possibly  have and therefore he did not take on the position. This decision was made despite all the turmoil that was taking place. Aaron’s actions give us a clear and  deep understanding regarding how careful we must be with the feelings of others. Aaron  was under the tremendous pressure of two and a half million people screaming for a new leader, and expressing a desire to go back to Egypt. He was also aware of the potential negative consequences that could occur, by not taking the leadership role. Still,  Aaron recognized that Moshe was a human being with very real feelings, and there was no way  he would do anything that might cause him even the slightest pain. 

In our day to day interactions we consistently come across circumstances where we can be  sensitive to others. We may be working on a challenging project at the office, and with so many responsibilities on our plate we may have to deal with a challenging coworker. However, we have to stop and realize that every individual is a human being, whose feelings could be hurt by a slight comment or gesture that we say or make. After a long hard day of work when we come into our homes exhausted we must stay focused and attuned to our spouse and children’s needs, to what is happening in their lives, and  realize  that our words, tones or gestures may be expressed in a way that can be hurtful and insensitive. 

If we stay focused on others and what we say, we can express positive words and messages that can uplift those around us, make them feel good about themselves, and bring our relationships closer. 

We must always remember to stay focused on the situations that are right in front of us. When we realize that we are interacting with real people with very real feelings and sensitivities we can become just like Ahron Hakohen and Rav Ahron Kotler.

 Rabbi Yaakov Moskowitz