By Sruly Schochet – Los Angeles
When Rabbi Yonasan Eybeschutz was a very young boy, he was quite rowdy and boisterous. Although he was already recognized as a child prodigy, he seemed to lack the ability to sit still for very long.
One year, his father, R’ Nosson Nota, who was the Chief Rabbi of the town they lived in, invited a wealthy congregant to be their guest at the Pessach seder.
As usual, little Yonasan didn’t sit by the table and was running about and playing. The guest couldn’t handle the disruption and could not understand why the Rabbi was not disciplining the boy. After several moments passed, the guest couldn’t contain himself and he firmly scolded the boy to sit down and be quiet. Surprisingly, young Yonasan listened and the guest was all proud of his chastising abilities. He sat there with a smug look on his face at how he was quickly able to bring the boy under control.
As the seder concluded and they finished singing the song Chad Gadyah, Yonasan turned to the guest and said: “May I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” replied the guest, who was not only wealthy, but quite well-learned as well.
“Well,” said Yonasan, “If you follow the story of Chad Gadyah, it turns out that Hashem was wrong.”
The guest expressed his surprise. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Think about it,” said Yonasan. “The cat bit the goat, so the cat was wrong. The dog bit the cat, so the dog was right. The stick hit the dog, so the stick was wrong. The fire burnt the stick, so the fire was right. The water put out the fire, so the water was wrong. The cow drank the water, so the cow was right. The shochet slaughtered the cow so the shochet was wrong. The Angel of Death killed the shochet, so the Angel of Death was right. Then Hashem killed the Angel of Death, so Hashem was wrong!”
The guest sat there dumbfounded, at a loss for an answer.
“I will tell you the answer”, replied Yonasan with a mischievous smile. “It’s because der hund (the dog) should have minded his own business!”
While this humorous story highlights the sharp wit R’ Yonasan Eybeshutz was so well known for, the Ben Ish Chai, in his commentary on the Haggadah, actually asks this question and concludes with a similar answer.
Had the dog been able to intercede in such a fashion that he would be saving the goat from the cat, no one could question his actions. But the deed was done. The goat was dead. For the dog to come along now and bite the cat, was an unjustified act of vigilantism. At that point in time, the dog needed to make sure that the cat went through the proper channels of justice and not taken the matter into his own hands. By doing so, the dog almost made it appear as if Hashem c”v made a mistake, so to speak.
This is further highlighted by the fact that the dog and cat are sworn enemies. Chances are the dog’s intentions were not purely altruistic and there were ulterior motives at play, no matter how slight.
There is a fascinating ruling in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) which discusses the obligations of helping someone load or unload their donkey. The normal rule is, when one sees a donkey that needs loading and another that needs unloading, you unload the donkey first, to get rid of the tzar balei chayim. Only then do you help the other person load their donkey.
What if, hypothesizes the Talmud, you see your enemy’s donkey that needs to be loaded and your friend’s donkey that needs unloading, which one takes precedence? To which the Talmud concludes that you must help your enemy load his donkey first, in order to subjugate your evil inclination. But shouldn’t helping a animal in pain, an explicit commandment in the Torah, takes precedence? Says the Talmud, that subjugating ones evil inclination takes precedence even over that!
In other words, the whole purpose of doing mitzvos is in order to refine ourselves and the world around us. Even though a person would seemingly be totally justified in helping his friend unload his donkey prior to helping his enemy load his, we all know that there is this potential for inner glee at having to watch your enemy struggle for a few moments longer. That moment of schadenfreude, no matter how brief, completely defeats the very basis of why we do mitzvos in the first place. Therefore, says the Talmud, it is more important that you swallow any measure of pride and help your enemy load his donkey, prior to helping your friend unload his.
Maybe it is just me, but I feel like the last six months has been filled with controversy. Scandal after seeming scandal splashed across our screens. Countless articles, whatsapp messages and discussions were had. Just when we thought we would have a moment of respite, another “scandal” crops up. To be sure, it is often important to highlight the wrongs in our society. How else can we fix it? How else can we hope to positively influence our children, our future?
But before doing so, before we forward on that juicy whatsapp or raise the subject with our friends at shul, we need to pause and ask ourselves a simple question: Am I doing this purely for the right intentions, or am acting like the dog in Chad Gadyah, that is just looking for a seemingly valid excuse to take a bite out of my nemesis? Am I really looking to make the world a better place for my kids, or is a part of me reveling in the public shaming of another?
As the Talmud above tells us, even if there is the slightest chance of an ulterior motive, we need to do whatever we can to vanquish those feelings that were clearly just stirred up by the Yetzer Hara. If there is even the slightest trace of chometz, we need to eradicate it, for no good can come from it.
This is something I realized that I myself am guilty of. My resolution this Pessach is to learn from the Chad Gadyah. I resolve to do my best to check and double check my motives in my interaction with my family and friends and that much more so with those that are not yet my friends. It is my fervent wish that you join me in this endeavor as well.
In the spirit of all this, may we very soon merit to a time when the world will only be filled with authentic and wholehearted altruism, with the coming of Moshiach speedily, Omain.