A Forgiving Man
“Man Is Given Consideration in the Same Measure He Considers Others” (Yerushalmi Sotah 1:7)
Our Sages relate that once a fast was decreed due to a drought. Rabbi Eliezer recited the twenty-four blessings that had been instituted for a fast day and was not answered. Then Rabbi Akiva prayed, “Our Father, our King, we have no King other than You; our Father, our King, for Your sake, have mercy on us,” and rain began to fall immediately (Ta’anit 25b).
The people cheered and proclaimed that Rabbi Akiva was evidently greater than his teacher, Rabbi Eliezer. A voice was heard from Heaven, saying: “It is not because this one is a greater than the other, but because this one [Rabbi Akiva] is a forgiving person, whereas that one [Rabbi Eliezer] is not a forgiving person.” Since Rabbi Akiva was a forgiving person, HaShem acted likewise towards him and forgave the sins of the people and blessed them with rain (Etz Yosef). Thus, Rabbi Akiva was answered only because he made it his practice to yield to others.
Our great Mussar scholars asked why the bat kol (Heavenly voice) maintained that it was not because one was greater than the other, when it was obvious that in this particular area Rabbi Akiva was greater than Rabbi Eliezer. They explained that Rabbi Eliezer was definitely greater than his student, Rabbi Akiva. Also, there was no doubt that Rabbi Eliezer adopted his stringent attitude for the sake of Heaven, just as Rabbi Akiva overcame his personal feelings for the sake of Heaven.
The difference lies in the application of Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s attributes measure for measure (Sanhedrin 90a). If you determine your actions according for your Heavenly judgment. This is not considered a punishment, but rather a reality which you, yourself, have chosen. Even if Rabbi Eliezer felt that he was forced to act according to a strict standard – perhaps because of his position as rosh yeshiva, or for other legitimate reasons—by doing so, he established a pattern whereby Heaven would not given him the benefit of the doubt but would only afford him justice according to the strict letter of the law. And in those terms, the people were not deserving of rainfall on that particular day.
Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was always forgiving. He functioned according t the attributed of chessed and mercy, and thereby “forced” Heaven to judge him in a similar manner—with chessed and an extension of mercy beyond the strict letter of the law. Therefore, the rain began to fall immediately after he prayed.
Without the performance of chessed and without being lenient, forgiving and subduing one’s personal feelings, we are unable to survive the Day of Judgment. The Divine wisdom, to which we cling by means of learning Torah, will teach us how to walk in God’s ways and how to implement chessed in the world. And this chessed will secure for us an inscription of chessed and mercy on the Day of Judgment.
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