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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

Chapter 30

32. The Root of the Trait of Piety

If a pious person sees that his fellow stands to suffer some kind of loss and he has the power to prevent it, he goes out of his way to do so. It goes without saying that he himself is most careful not to do anything that will incur loss to another.
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The trait of piety is founded upon a desire serve God in a manner that will please Him. Not because of duty or obligation, but because of a love which fills the heart, an inner yearning and spiritual enthusiasm to bring pleasure to the Creator. In this manner a person performs the commandments swiftly, flawlessly, and uncompromisingly. Such a person is not satisfied with carrying out the essential and obligatory aspects of the commandments. He desires to go further and perform even those elements which are not essential to the fulfillment of the commandments, what are known as "the remnants of a mitzvah" ("sheyarei hamitzvah").
Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
31 - 31. The Service of the Pious
32 - 32. The Root of the Trait of Piety
33 - 33. More on the Trait of Piety
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The waving of the sacrifices is an example of such a nonessential "remnant." This act is not crucial to the fulfillment of the commandment, and a person discharges his obligation even without waving the sacrifice. In this regard the Sages teach, "The dispensable ingredients of a precept [when performed] ward off punishment."

Just as a pious person is careful to fulfill with perfection those commandments which relate to serving God, so does he strive perform with perfection those commandments which affect the way he relates to his fellow man, trying to help whoever he can in any manner he can. This is what the sages call "bearing the burden with one's fellow."

If a pious person sees that his fellow stands to suffer some kind of loss and he has the power to prevent it, he goes out of his way to do so. And it goes without saying that he himself is most careful not to do anything that will incur loss to his fellow. Our sages of blessed memory have thus said, "Your neighbor's belongings should be as precious to you as your own" (Avoth 2:12).

The ancient Jewish pietists were even careful to bury their thorns and glass three handbreadths deep in the earth in order not to hinder the plow. In doing this they were going beyond they letter of the law in order to avoid causing damage to others.

To a certain degree, preventing possible danger or damage to others constitutes a greater measure of piety than performing kindness toward others, because if you do a favor for somebody he becomes thankful and feels indebted to you. This is not true in a case where one prevents his fellow from suffering loss, for a person is less inclined to feel as if you have done him a favor when you do not give him something of your own.

This is all the more true when a person does not even know that you have spared him some potential damage. Such an act is true kindness, for no thanks is ever expressed. This is true piety. Therefore the sages say, "A person who wishes to be pious should uphold the laws of damages."

This does not mean that a person should merely refrain from harming others, for while a person who does not cause damage to others is not evil, he is nonetheless not pious. Rather, what this means is that a person should fulfill the laws of damages wherever he sees something that is likely to cause damage to others. He must remove any sort of health hazard or obstacle which endangers others, and thus prevent potential damage.

The students of R' Zakkai asked their master: "Through what merit did you live to such a ripe old age?" He replied, "Never in my life did I call a person by a nickname." By this he meant even a nickname that was not derogatory. "And never in my life did I miss making Kiddush on Sabbath. Once my aging mother sold her head cover in order to bring me wine for Kiddush."

This is an example of piety which goes beyond the letter of the law. R' Zakkai, because he did not have any means to buy wine, was in fact exempt from making Kiddush. Nonetheless, he did so out of piety. These are examples of pious conduct between man and his fellow man and between man and the Creator, and with God's help we shall discuss these matters in greater detail next time.

Some of the translated Talmudic sources in the above article were taken from or based upon Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom) or Feldheim's "Path of the Just."

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