Our Influence On Others
"Who is the man who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows to be like his heart." (1) The Torah commands anyone who is afraid of going to war to leave the battlefield because of the negative influence his behavior will have on his fellow soldiers. They will be effected by his fear and consequently become more fearful themselves which will have a detrimental session.
The Ramban brings the opinion of the Behag that this is one of the 613 mitzvot.(2) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says that the root of this mitzvah is that it is forbidden to act in such a way in any area of life that will negatively influence onlookers. This applies even if the action is justified but can still be interpreted in a negative way - thus he warns of the care a person studying in Yeshiva must take in not missing the study sessions, even when he has a valid reason, because everyone else may not know of this reason and will come to learn to be less strict in keeping to their own studies.(3)
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach applied this principle in Jewish law. He was asked by someone who had a choice of two Shacharis (the morning service) minyanim (quorum); one was far slower than the other, allowing for more concentration, but if he would pray in it he would have to leave before the end. Rav Auerbach answered that he should pray in the slower minyan even though he would have to leave early. However, he told the person that he should make known the reason for his early departure so as to avoid other people learning from his actions and in the incorrect way.(4) Even though the questioner was following the law by leaving early, nevertheless he had to be aware of the possible consequences that this could have on others.(5)
One may ask, why should a person be judged by how his actions influence others if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them? We are commanded to keep the 613 mitzvot; if a person does that then why should he suffer from others imitating him in a negative way? Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt"l writes that in the Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashana we say that God judges the "maaseh ish upekudaso." "Maaseh ish" means a person's own actions, but what does 'pekudaso' refer to? He explains that each person has a sphere of influence beyond himself, which includes his family, his students, and any people that come into contact with him. The way he influences these people through his own actions is 'pekudaso' and he is judged in that area as well. If, by observing his behavior, they learn to improve their Divine Service then he will receive much reward, but if the opposite occurs then he will be judged for his part in their sins just as he is judged for his own.(6)
A person's actions do not take place in a vacuum, we are always being noticed by others, consequently we must constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them.
We can benefit from this form of reward through the positive effect we can have on our fellow: One way in which to do this is by being a positive example in our own behavior and thereby inspire those around us to emulate us.(7) Rav Aron Kotler notes that it is very difficult to rebuke someone effectively without embarrassing him. He suggests that one way to help him grow without fear of causing pain is rebuke by example; acting in such a way that inspires others to emulate his behavior.(8) Someone who, for example consistently arrives on time for Shacharis can influence his roommates to want to do the same; a person who works all day but is careful to be learn Torah for a fixed time every day is an example to those who can't find the time to learn regularly. Or a person who is careful not to speak lashon hara makes it difficult for those around him to do so by his mere presence. Rav Kotler adds that if a person deliberately excels in a certain area of Divine service in order to effect onlookers, then he has fulfilled the mitzvah of rebuke in this fashion. And the greater a person is, the more he can influence others in this way. A resolution to bring all of Jewry back to the Torah was found in the satchel of the righteous Rav Naftali Amsterdam. When asked how he planned to carry out this resolution, he replied, "I have resolved to keep all the laws of the Shulchan Aruch(9) strictly. In this way I will serve as a living Shulchan Aruch and anyone who wants to keep the Torah will be able to see in me a living example of a complete Jew and learn from me how to return to the Torah." (10)
Rav Shmuelevitz goes so far as to argue that causing others to fulfill a mitzvah is considered greater than doing the mitzvah oneself. One of his proofs is a Gemara in Sotah:(11) The Gemara says that Yehuda's body did not find rest until Moses prayed for him and mentioned one of his merits; Moses said to God, "who caused Reuven to confess to his sin [of moving his father's bed]? Yehuda [when he confessed about the incident with Tamar]." Rav Shmuelevitz points out that the only merit that Moses mentioned in his prayer is that Yehuda caused Reuven to confess. Why didn't he mention the great merit of Yehuda's own confession, an act of great courage that saved the lives of three souls?! We are forced to answer that benefitting our fellow in his spirituality is greater than our own deed in and of itself and therefore the effect his deed had on Reuven was greater than the deed itself! (12)
A person can never know when his deeds can influence others, even the smallest actions can have great effect as is demonstrated in the following true stories: Expecting a large crowd in shul on Yom Kippur, Rav Elya Dushnitzer occupied himself by tearing pieces of toilet paper for public use in the large Petach Tikva shul's bathroom.(13) A secular Israeli stopped to watch what appeared to him as somewhat peculiar. "Why are you doing that," he asked. "Tomorrow there is going to be a big crowd, and I don't want anyone to be inconvenienced." After becoming a baal teshuva, the Israeli explained what moved him to make a life change. "It was that rabbi. Every rip of paper made a tear deep in my heart." (14)
Unsure of whether to attend yeshiva or not, young Moshe decided to go to a yeshiva and see what the guys were like. As he was walking through the lunchroom, someone bumped into him, causing Moshe to spill his coffee on another boy seated at a table. Without a moment's hesitation, the boy jumped up and called out, "Hey, Shimon, quickly bring another cup of coffee for Moshe!" Moshe decided that if this is what yeshiva bachurim are like, then he's going to stay. He went on to become Rav Moshe Shwab, the mashgiach (spiritual overseer) of Gateshead Yeshiva. (15)
The people in these stories who were the catalyst for the great changes people made in their lives, do not merely gain reward for their single action. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot writes that a person who benefits others receives incredible benefits; (16) It begins by saying that 'sin will not come to his hand,' - many commentators explain this to mean that he will receive great Heavenly assistance to avoid sin.(17) The Mishna then describes Moses as an example of a mezakeh d'rabim (one who benefits many) and says that he receives reward for all the Mitzvot that he caused to be done as if he fulfilled them himself. Thus, Rav Aaron Kotler notes that one who causes others to perform Mitzvot receives incredible reward for his deeds. "one can not imagine the great gain a person receives through this; he merits extra heavenly protection to not stumble in sin and also to a great number of merits, something which would have been impossible for him to achieve through his own free will.(18) He writes further that this can help us in Heavenly Judgment; The Gemara says that the Books of Life and of Death are opened on Rosh Hashana. Tosefot explains that the dead are also judged.(19) For what are they judged? Rav Kotler answers that even after a person's death, the actions he committed in the world can still effect others , both positively or negatively. Thus, if a person helps others in such a way that the benefits are long-lasting, he can continue to reap the reward for this even after his own death.(20)
1. Shoftim, 20:8.
2. Ramban, Ibid.
3. Sichos Mussar, Maamer 94, pp. 399-403.
4. Kleinman, 'Praying with Fire', pp. 99-100, quoting Halichos Shlomo (tefilla), Ch.1, Simun 2; also cited in Tefillah K'Hilchasa, Ch.2, footnote 28.
5. It is possible that Rav Aurebach's ruling is not applicable to every case, for there may be communities where it is understood that people have to leave early for valid reasons; an Orthodox authority should be consulted for clarification of each persons' individual circumstances.
6. Quoted in Sefer Kerem HaTzvi of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Farber, Nitzavim, quoted in Meorey Tefilla of Rav Immanuel Bernstein, p. 207.
7. The other main way is to directly teach or encourage people to grow in their Avodas Hashem. Both ways are obligations but in this essay we are focussing on how one's own actions can positively or negatively effect others without any direct communication.
8. Mishnas Rebbi Aaron, 1st Chelek, pp. 252-3.
9. Written by Rav Yosef Karo, this is the work that is the foundation for Jewish law.
10. Zaitchik, Sparks of Mussar, p. 109.
11. Sotah, 7b.
12. Sichos Mussar, ibid. pp. 402-3.
13. There is a prohibition to tear on Shabbat and Yom Tov, therefore one needs to have pre torn toilet paper.
14. Kaplan, Major Impact, p. 96.
15. Ibid, p.95.
16. Avos, 5:18.
17. See Rambam, peirush hamishnayos on the Mishna. Also see the Gemara in Yoma, 87a with Rashi.
18. Mishnas Rebbi Aaron, Ibid, p. 246.
19. Rosh Hashana 32b.
20. Ibid. p. 252.