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Rabbi Shmuel of Slonim: A Chassidic Perspective on Being Offended

Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg of Slonim was born in 5610 (1850) to his father, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Aharon, the son of Rabbi Avraham, the founder of the chassidic sect of Slonim. Rabbi Shmuel acquired the primary tenets of his path in Chassidut from his grandfather, although he would also journey often to the chassidic greats of his generation, who included Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz and Rabbi David Moshe of Chortekov. Rabbi Shmuel conducted far-reaching community service and was in touch with the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, the Chofetz Chaim and many others. In his connections with the rebbes and rabbis of his generation, he served as an emissary of his nephew, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg (the third) who eventually became the Rebbe of Slonim. As was the way of the Slonim rebbes, he was in close contact with the chassidic community in the Land of Israel and supported it. When he was younger, he visited twice in the Land of Israel. In 5660 (1900), Rabbi Shmuel worked to establish Yeshivat Or Torah in Tiberias, through his chassid, Rabbi Moshe Clears, the Ashkenazic rabbi of the city. Rabbi Shmuel passed away on the 19th of Shevat 5676 (1916), in the throes of World War I, while he was in Warsaw for medical treatment. Because of the transportation difficulties due to the war, he was laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. His remaining Torah teachings were published in Tishrei 5729 (1969) by Rabbi Shalom Noach Barzovsky (the “Netivot Shalom”) in the book, “Divrei Shmuel.”

Editor’s note: If you read no further than the story itself, you will likely be left with some questions. Please read the explanation following the story and you will gain valuable insights.

Rabbi Shmuel’s noble character and fine attributes amazed and influenced all those who saw him. Rabbi Shmuel demanded that they, too, would display purity of attributes and total forgiveness. Even if someone would seemingly sin against him, Rabbi Shmuel would advise the wronged person to forgive, and most importantly, that there would be no hard feelings afterward.

Once Rabbi Baruch Mordechai of Warsaw gave Rabbi Moshe Midner merchandise worth hundreds of rubles so that he could sell it and make a living. But when people came to buy his merchandise, Rabbi Moshe wasn’t interested in making the sales and would continue to study Torah and say Psalms. The customers felt free to help themselves. Not much time passed until Rabbi Moshe was left with nothing. He of course could not return the merchandise or pay Rabbi Baruch Mordechai back. Rabbi Baruch Mordechai was very upset.

Before Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Shmuel told Rabbi Mordechai that he must pacify Rabbi Moshe Midner and buy him an aliyah to the Torah in the synagogue (an honor for the recipient of the aliyah). Years later, Rabbi Shmuel’s grandson said that this was not unusual for his grandfather. He remembered that if children would fight, his grandfather would tell the offended child to ask forgiveness of the child who had hurt him He further related that for this reason, the children would not complain to their grandfather about others, for they knew that they would then have to pacify them.

Many people may find Rabbi Shmuel’s guidance upsetting. Why am I responsible for someone who mistreated me? What will the world look like if everyone remains silent in the face of evil? But even if you are not at fault (certainly a possibility) and before we run to rectify the world (which is important), Rabbi Shmuel highlighted an important point: What is the source of the feeling of being offended or harmed?

Chassidut teaches that the feeling of insult is a result of hurt pride and honor, the feeling of entitlement, that I have everything coming to me. This is the feeling that Rabbi Shmuel sought to uproot. (In Chabad, for example, it is not customary for people to request pardon from each other on Yom Kippur eve for the same reason).

In keeping with the ‘reverse apology’ of Slonim, we will present a new explanation for the concept of Kibud Horim (honoring parents). Many families experience a lack of honor of parents as a painful offense. The simple meaning of honoring parents is of course the honor accorded one’s parents. We can also understand the phrase, however, to mean the honor that parents accord to their children.

This is the chassidic explanation of the verse “He who spares his rod (shivto) hates his son.”[1] Chassidut explains that shivto (his rod) is not a rod at all, but the spiritual shevet (tribe) of the son. Every tribe has its own sense, its own grace, and its own precious stone in the High Priest’s Breastplate. If the relationship between the parents and children is not good, it is a sign that the parent did not manage to “educate the youth according to his path[2]” and did not guide him according to his own unique personality and sense, his tribe.

The Arizal explains that the closer we get to the days of Mashiach, the phenomenon of children who are of different tribes than their parents intensifies. This requires deep contemplation on the part of the parents (in the manner prescribed by Chassidut) as well as the ability to be open to new perspectives. It may be difficult, but that is the definition of honor: Understanding the different place of the other and seeing him as he is in his place. Furthermore, special Heavenly help joins in with the spiritual effort of contemplation. After all, God deposited this child with me and He will certainly not prevent me from giving him the unique perspective that he needs.

Just as the insulted parent must pacify his child, so – and even more so – is this the case when the child feels that he has been hurt by his parents. The primary spiritual battle of the now-grown child is to remove the garments of his childhood, the pain of his perhaps complex past. When the child, through his intense work, merits an expanded consciousness, he wholeheartedly forgives his parents and even requests their forgiveness for not honoring them enough.

All of the above is not in any way a justification to offend or harm others and then to demand an apology from the victim, God forbid. This is, however, a call for inner contemplation every time we feel that we have been offended. Who is talking now in my head? Truth and justness? Or my battered honor? Where necessary, the inner work does not contradict the obligation to take action and demand justice. But it does give us tools to do so from the clearest possible place within.

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

[1] Proverbs 13:24.

[2] Proverbs 22:6.

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