Concern for the Feelings of Others

“You shall not hurt the feelings of one another” (Leviticus 25:17).


Dear Friends,


As we discussed, the men and women of the Old Yishuv in Zion became known as “chareidim” – a biblical term which refers to those who fervently fulfill the mitzvos – Divine mandates – with loving concern and reverence. Some of the stories that we have shared on our tour of Old Jerusalem were about Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who became the Rav of Old Jerusalem. These stories reveal that he was a “chareidi” not only for the mitzvos regarding our relationship with Hashem, but also for the mitzvos regarding our relationship with other people, including the mitzvos that mandate honesty, loving-kindness, and concern for the feelings of others. In this letter, I will share with you two stories which can serve as additional examples of his fervent and loving concern for the feelings of others:


1. Rav Yosef Chaim took painstaking care when baking his matzos to ensure that everything should be done according to the strictest standards, beyond the minimum requirements of the halacha – the steps on the Torah path. This stricter standard is known as mehudar – beautiful and honorable.


It once happened that one of those assisting Rav Yosef Chaim in the baking of the matzos pointed out to him that one of the workers kneading the dough was not doing such a good job in terms of the stricter standards. He suggested to the Rav that the worker be admonished and told to work faster and more efficiently. Rav Yosef Chaim declined, however, saying:


“I refuse to distress a poor worker by admonishing him to work harder than he already does, just because I want my matzos to be a notch more mehudar.  I, for my part, am willing to undergo the greatest effort and expense to improve the quality of my matzos. Furthermore, I pray that Hashem grant me the merit of having matzos that meet the strictest standard, and I trust that Hashem will accept my prayer, for He knows how intense my desire is to fulfill this mitzvah in the best possible manner. However, to obtain mehudar matzos at the expense of rebuking a poor laborer – the gain in terms of mitzvah quality would be canceled out by the loss!”
To gain a better understanding of the above response, we need to remember that consideration for someone’s feelings is a mitzvah, as the Torah states:


“You shall not hurt the feelings of one another” (Leviticus 25:17).


Rav Yosef Chaim continued to explain his reasoning, and he referred to a teaching of our sages on the following Divine mandate: “You shall safeguard the matzos” (Exodus 12:17). In Hebrew, the word “matzos” has the same letters as the word “mitzvos”; thus, the Sages explain that the words, “You shall safeguard the matzos,” can be read as, “You shall safeguard the mitzvos.” Rav Yosef Chaim suggested that the Sages may have had the following teaching in mind:


“When baking matzos, one must remember that there are other mitzvos besides matzo in the Torah, and that care should be taken to observe them scrupulously as well!”


When scrupulously baking his matzos, Rav Yosef Chaim also scrupulously observed the mitzvah to be considerate of the feelings of others.


2. There is a custom observed by women to refrain from doing certain chores on Rosh Chodesh, when we commemorate the arrival of the new month. For example, there is a custom not to do laundry on Rosh Chodesh.


One Rosh Chodesh day, before Rav Yosef Chaim set out for the early morning prayers, a loud commotion with women’s voices was heard from down the block. He asked his daughter-in-law, who had moved in, along with her family, after the passing of the Rav’s wife, if she might go out and see what the fuss was all about. She discovered that one of the women in the neighborhood had hired a laundress from another neighborhood to come and do her laundry that day. When the laundress arrived in the predawn darkness to begin her work, however, her would-be employer told her that she had forgotten that today was Rosh Chodesh. The custom is not to do laundry on Rosh Chodesh, and the would-be employer was adamant about scrupulously observing this practice. She therefore told the laundress to go home. The dismayed laundress explained that if she did not work on that day, she would literally not have any money to feed her children, since her husband was physically incapacitated and she was the sole supporter of the family. An argument ensued between the two Jewish women, and this was the commotion that Rav Yosef Chaim had heard.


When Rav Yosef Chaim heard what had happened, he quickly asked his daughter-in-law, “Do we have any unclean laundry in the house, for which to employ this woman?” The daughter-in-law replied that she thought she could round up a bit of work for the laundress to do.


“Quickly, then,” Rav Yosef Chaim urged her. “Go bring the woman to our house for a few hours. To cause sorrow and pain to a poor Jewish woman like this is a much more serious sin than breaking a religious custom!”


The daughter-in-law ran to call the woman to her house before she had a chance to leave the neighborhood. She set up the tub and washboard, and brought in the laundry.  Just then, there was a knock on the door. It was the woman who originally hired the laundress:


“If the Rav can have his laundry done on Rosh Chodesh, then so can I!” she declared, and she rehired the laundress for the day.


Rav Yosef Chaim taught the employer an ethical Torah lesson through his own example. She got the message and the laundress got the work she needed.  


Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Comments:


1. The above stories about Rav Yosef Chaim are found in the book, “Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld on the Parashah (Torah portion of Each Week),” compiled by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, a great-grandson of Rav Yosef Chaim. For information on this book, visit:


2. In our previous discussion about Dr. Moshe Wallach, the founder and director of Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, we cited a moving excerpt from a letter by Rav Yitzchak Hutner. I forgot to mention that this letter of Rav Hutner appears in the new fascinating ArtScroll book by Rabbi Moshe Bamberger: “Great Jewish Letters” – A Collection of Classic and Inspirational Writings of Torah Personalities. For information, visit:  


The article on Dr. Wallach is now in the archive of this series on our website:

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