Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Neighbors and Partners
To dedicate this lesson

Carpet Diem


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Tevet 2 5781
Rabbi Yitzchak Freiman looked up from his siddur in concern. Why would Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach be taking off his tefillin in the middle of davening in shul? Rabbi Yitzchak had been assisting Rabbi Shlomo Zalman for years, and knew his habits well. If the great rabbi was preparing to leave while prayer services were still going on, it had to be something serious. Rabbi Yitzchak’s suspicions were confirmed when Rabbi Shlomo Zalman confided that he had severe pain in his gums, and he was incapable of praying at this point.
The two men began walking toward Rabbi Shlomo Zalman’s home, when they were approached by a passerby.
"Rabbi Shlomo Zalman!" the man exclaimed. "I have an important question to ask you!"
Rabbi Yitzchak attempted to interject, and inform the stranger that Rabbi Shlomo Zalman wasn’t feeling well, and needed to return home. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, however, gave one of his trademark smiles, and encouraged the man to continue with his question.
"Well, it’s like this," the man began. "I have carpets in my house. You know, not very new carpets. I’ve had them in my house for a while. When I got them they looked newer of course, but, you know how things go. They don’t have such a fresh look anymore. I was going to clean them, but then I thought to myself ‘why go to all the trouble of cleaning them, when I have a perfectly good floor under the carpets?’ So that’s just what I did. I rolled up the carpets and moved them to the side, so that they would be out of the way. And you wouldn't believe it! The floor under the carpets looks just fine! I mean, it’s the standard tile, but it does the job, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I thought that I had solved the problem, but it turns out that I solved one problem, but that caused another one. You know, like a side effect. Anyway, so now my downstairs neighbor is telling me that she hears me every time I walk across the floor. I mean, she’s a nice lady. She’s a widow, and Holocaust survivor, and she says that the noise of walking across the floor brings back memories of soldiers. I really wouldn’t want to bring back those bad feelings for her. But, you know, I don’t see why I should have to clean those carpets. So, anyway, to make a long story short, my question, Rabbi, is if I have to clean the carpets and leave them on the floor, or if it’s OK for me to roll them up and put them away, even though the noise bothers my downstairs neighbor."
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman looked at the man thoughtfully. "That’s an excellent question! I’m sure it’s not easy for you to clean the carpets, but I think it would be very special if you could make the effort to leave them on the floor, in order to make your neighbor more comfortable. If you put the carpets back, it will be a source of blessing for you."
"You’re sure, Rabbi?" the man replied. "Putting the carpets back on the floor will bring me blessing?"
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman calmly repeated his answer, while Rabbi Yitzchak looked on, incredulously. Here was a man who was clearly in intense pain, and he was stopping to answer a question which didn’t seem to be urgent at all! The two men were about to continue walking, when the questioner spoke again.
"Rabbi, I just have one more question! What do you think I should use to clean the carpets? I mean, I want to do a good job of course, but I don’t want to ruin the carpets, after all."
"Another excellent question," Rabbi Shlomo Zalman patiently replied. "On the next street, there’s a building supply store. Tell them that I sent you, and that they should find you the best materials to use for cleaning carpets."
After the man had gone, Rabbi Yitzchak turned to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, and asked how he could spend so much time answering a non-urgent question, when he was in such pain.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman smiled again. "If a Jew asks me a question, how could I not answer it?"
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman encouraged the man to replace the carpets on the floor, without issuing a direct halachic ruling. Was Rabbi Shlomo Zalman simply telling the man to act in a way that was beyond the letter of the law, or was it, in fact, required conduct?
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
The man was, in fact, obligated to put the carpets back, according to the letter of the law. It is a Torah prohibition to cause pain to a widow.
Maimonides writes "A person must be especially careful regarding his treatment of widows and orphans, because they are particularly vulnerable… as the Torah states ‘do not cause pain to any widow or orphan.’ How must one act toward them? Only speak gently to them, and only act with respect toward them. Don’t harm them physically with hard labor, and don’t hurt their hearts with harsh words. One must be more careful with their possessions than he is with his own property." (Hilchot De’ot, 6, 10)
Even though the question regards the man’s own house, and not the widow’s, the man is obligated to put back the carpet. This is because the carpets have been in place until now, and the woman became used to the quiet, and, as a result, the sudden change in noise level caused her agitation.
In summary:The man is obligated, according to Torah law, to put the carpets back on the floor.

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