Just Say 'No!'
As always, our best sources for ideal Torah-true behavior is the life-styles of our gedolim, whose lives were saturated with mesiras nefesh. I believe that at the Shabbos table, in addition to discussing the parsha of the week, episodes of the lives of the gedolim should be related.
A baal-teshuvah asked Hagaon Rav Chaim Kunievsky what he could do to instill yiras shamayim in his young son. Rav Chaim suggested that he learn sifrei musar with him. “Is that what your father (the Steipler gaon) did with you?” Rav Chaim said, “No, he told me sippurei tsaddikim (stories about our gedolim).”
There were some gedolim who did not achieve much renown. One such talmid chachah was Reb Yudel Holzman pf Jerusalem. One time, a collection was taken up to enable a person to have surgery, but Reb Yudel had exhausted his meager earnings and was already in debt to the gemach (free loan fund). He asked the gemach to extend him a loan, which he would be able to pay in the following way. “In my budget, I have money for wine for kiddush. I can recite the kiddush on challah, and use the wine-money to pay off the loan that I could use to contribute to the drive for the medical treatment.” That is mesiras nefesh..
There are opportunities for mesiras nefesh in doing business. The Talmud relates that Rav Safra had an item he wished to sell. While he was davening, a buyer offered him a price for the item, but Rav Safra did not interrupt his davening to respond. The buyer thought that Rav Safra’s failure to response was because the price he offered was too low, and he increased the offer. When again Rav Safra did not respond, the buyer again raised the offer. When Rav Safra finished davening, he told the buyer that he would sell it to him and the amount of the first offer, because in his heart he had agreed to this. That is mesiras nefesh.
Rebbe Yisrael Salanter was traveling to Vilna, and a young man on the train acted very disrespectfully toward him. “Your cigar smoke bothers me,” the young man said. Rebbe Yisrael could have pointed out to him that this was a smoking cabin, but he quietly extinguished his cigar. A bit later, the young man said, “Why did you open the window? The draft bothers me.” Rebbe Yisrael said, “I did not open the window,” and proceeded to close it.
When they arrived in Vilna, a huge crowd greeted Rebbe Yisrael. The young man realized he had offended a gadol, and apologized for his behavior. Rebbe Yisrael assured him that he was moichel wholeheartedly, and asked the young man what brought him to Vilna. The latter said that he came to be certified as a shoichet. Rebbe Yisrael told him that he could help him, because his son-in-law was a Rav in Vilna.
The son-in-law interviewed the young man and told Rebbe Yisrael that the young man was totally unprepared for certification. Rebbe Yisrael arranged for a senior shoichet to tutor him, and when he achieved certification, Rebbe Yisrael arranged to get him a position.
Rebbe Yisrael was asked why he extended himself so much for this young man. RebbeYisrael said, “I told him that I forgave him wholeheartedly, bit I realized that lI still harbored a resentment. I tried to help him in order to eliminate the resentment from my heart.” That is mesiras nefesh.