05 Sep The Greatest Achievement in Life
Recently, ArtScroll put out a magnificent sefer from the teachings of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, zy”a, on the Yomim Noraim. In it, Rav Chaim cites an amazing statement by the Chazon Ish, zt”l, zy”a. The Chazon Ish challenges us with a question: What is the highest achievement that one could strive for in one’s lifetime? As I pondered this, I was truly unprepared for his answer. He stated that the pinnacle of achievement in one’s life is to go through life without causing another person any pain. Let’s stop and think about this for a second. The Chazon Ish did not say finishing shas, he did not talk about building a large family, nor did he speak of giving huge amounts of charity, although these are all certainly worthy accomplishments. Instead, the Chazon Ish talks about not causing one’s fellow pain – and this is the height of success in life.
This matches with another incredible statement made by my Rebbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, zy”a, when they asked him the perennial question, “Bameh harachta yomim – To what do you attribute your longevity?” He did not answer what we would expect – that he was always learning Torah. After all, the study of Torah promises long life, as the posuk informs us, “Orech yomim b’yaminah – Length of life is in Her (the Torah’s) right hand,” and it also says, “Eitz chaim Hi l’machazikim Bah – A tree of life to all who grab hold of It.” Instead, he said in Yiddish, “In mein gantz leben, hob ich kein mol nit getun vie tzu ah mentschen – In my whole life, I never caused pain to another person.” Once again, another Gadol HaDor teaches us that a crowning achievement of life is to avoid at all costs causing another person pain.
We get this idea also from the fact that “Hamalbin p’nei chaveiro b’rabim ein lo cheilek l’olam haba – One who (habitually, cf. Meiri) embarrasses a person in public repeatedly (and fails to repent) loses his afterlife.” One does not suffer such a punishment even for such crimes as murder, adultery, or idolatry. But, shaming a person in the Eyes of Hashem is the ultimate crime against humanity.
With these lessons in mind, it’s important for us to take stock of our own behavior as we head into the Day of Judgement, Rosh HaShanah. In our marriages, are we careful not to cause our spouse pain? The Gemora in Baba Metzia teaches us that onaas devorim is worse than onaas mamon. Hurtful words are worse than stealing from another. We know that we have universal disgust and disdain for the pickpocket and the purse snatcher. Yiddishkeit views one who is verbally abusive as even more awful. On Yom Kippur, we will say, “V’al cheit she’chatonu lifonecha b’honaas rei’a – And we confess for the sins that we sinned before you, Hashem, in the hurting of our friends.”
At this time of introspection, are we sensitive to the feelings of our siblings, do we speak nicely to our co-workers, respectfully to our parents and our rabbis? Are we sensitive to the needs of our children? Finally, let us remember that even suffering, repentance, and the power of Yom Kippur do not atone for a crime against our fellow man unless we ask for them for forgiveness. So, let’s muster up the courage to make amends to those people who we’ve been carelessly or foolishly insensitive towards during the past year. In that merit, may Hashem bless us and our loved ones with a very healthy, happy, and wonderful New Year.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.