Friday, June 15, 2018

Derekh Eretz / Good Manners

Rebbe Nachman held good manners and consideration of the feelings of others in high esteem. He once said: "Kings and emperors could send their sons to me in order to learn derekh eretz."

(Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh III, 74)


Thus, derekh eretz was a trademark of Breslover Chassidim, as many stories attest.

(See Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 370; ibid. V, 401. Regarding the laws of derekh eretz, see Rabbi Yaakov Davidson, Hilkhos Derekh Eretz (Hebrew); in English, Rabbi S. Wagschal, Guide to Derech Eretz, Feldheim 1993)


In his old age, Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz lived in the home of Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn, where due to space limitations, one of Reb Moshe’s teenage sons slept in the same room as their elderly guest. Once Reb Avraham fell on the floor in the middle of the night and could not get back on his feet without help. Shortly before daybreak, Reb Moshe looked in on him, and couldn't believe his eyes. Reb Avraham still remained on the floor, where he had recited Tikkun Chatzos, studied Torah, and performed his usual pre-dawn avodahs uncomplainingly, rather than disrupt the youngster’s sleep. When asked why he had not called out, Reb Avraham replied, “What difference does it make if one davens or learns at a table, or in a corner, or on the ground?”

(Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman)


Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn thought that it was his uncle Rabbi Shmelke Burshteyn who was with Reb Avraham that night, and that the time frame was about two hours. According to the way Reb Avraham Shimon heard the story, when asked why he didn’t call for help, Reb Avraham replied, “Es hott mich nisht geshtert az ich lig azoy . . . It didn’t bother me to lie there like that. I was able to make hisbodedus, say Tikkun Chatzos, imagine the yom ha-misah…”


While traveling from Poland to Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Ephraim’l of Pshedbarz, author of Oneg Shabbos, and his companions slept in the barn of a local farmer. One of his friends noticed that when Reb Ephraim’l turned in for the night, he found a rooster sleeping on his bed of straw. Instead of disturbing the bird, he returned to his learning, and periodically checked to see if the bird had woken up, until it finally left of its own accord. Only then did he go to sleep.

(Oral tradition)


Reb Gedaliah Kenig stressed that Breslover Chassidim should be me’urav im ha-briyos, in harmony with others. He said, “Der Rebbe’s zach is no’am, nisht vildkeit . . . The Rebbe’s path is pleasantness, not wildness!” He spoke about many things, but the main thing he stressed was no’am, pleasantness. This is the quality of Shabbos –- “no’am Shabbos.”

(Heard from Rabbi Noach Cheifetz)


Reb Gedaliah was exemplary in all matters of derekh eretz and upright conduct bein adam le-chavero. For example, he would not begin to eat until everyone had been served. Moreover, if someone came to see him while he was eating, he would set aside his food in order to avoid making the visitor wait.

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin)


Reb Gedaliah was a repository of knowledge of proper conduct toward others, derived from Chazal and tzaddikim: “Ehr gehat a dikkeh Shulchan Arukh af derekh eretz ... He had a thick 'Shulchan Arukh' about good manners."

(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man and Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin)


Many years ago, someone asked Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Gottleib what he saw by the Breslover Chassidim. He replied, “They are extremely truthful, and are scrupulously honest in money matters.”

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin. The Rebbe devoted a lengthy lesson to this subject; see Likutey Moharan I, 69 [“Chomer Issur Gezelah”]; also from early Chassidic sources see Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov, Malki ba-Kodesh, Hanhagos Tovos: Nusach I, 18: “One should be careful not to steal even less than a sheva peruta, whether from a Jew or a gentile, and if one has done so, he should return it.”)

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