Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Chazal are effusive in their praise of vittur – giving in. Perhaps the reason that it is referred to in heroic terms is because it is not only contrary to human nature, but also violates man’s sense of propriety.

The kind of praise that Chazal accord one who overcomes his nature is akin to the terminology that Chazal apply to the farmers who uphold the laws of shmittah. The Midrash elaborates that every seven years, through the mitzvah of shmittah (allowing the Land of Israel to lay fallow for a year), the farmers testify that G-d is the creator of the world and owner of the land. No mitzvah highlights this realization more than shmittah, for normally one performs a mitzvah for one day, or a week, but shmittah lasts an entire year. One sees his fields and produce open to all, his fences unlocked, his fruit being eaten… and overcomes his natural instincts and does not object. People possessing such power of restraint are heroically referred to as “mighty men of valor who perform His bidding.”

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A farmer addressed a group of seminary students this year and described the difficulty the members of her farm were undergoing with an analogy. “Try to imagine a toddler sitting in a highchair eating spaghetti and meatballs. A little mess, maybe even a lot more than a little mess is expected at mealtime. But what happens if you are not allowed to clean her up? Not for five minutes, an hour, or a week – not even for twelve months?

“This is how we feel when we see our fields unattended, and everything left unrepaired. We see a mess, disrepair, and can do nothing about it.” Seeing one’s property neglected and income disregarded is a tremendous challenge, earning those stalwart shmittah observers the title reserved for those who exercise restraint.

The above is an introduction to the following contemporary story.

Shmuel and Efraim are two same-aged boys who attend the same synagogue in Jerusalem. Due to a fluke it never occurred to anyone (including their families) to inquire whether the boys’ respective bar mitzvahs would be on the same Shabbos, which of course they were. Had this only been known in advance, there would have been time to work out an equitable compromise to afford both boys semi-equal time in the sun. But now that both boys had prepared the reading of the entire Torah portion as well as the haftara, there was no longer the option of a Solomonic solution.

Just days before the celebrations, the situation had all the makings of a powder keg that would inevitably leave one family, and particularly one young man, feeling slighted and deprived.

Remarkably, this was not what happened. Efraim, totally on his own initiative, decided to be mevatter, to sacrifice his legitimate right to at least half of the limelight, and offered – indeed insisted – that Shmuel take all of the honors that normally would be awarded to a solo bar mitzvah.

Efraim was so determined that when compromise overtures were offered, he would not hear of them. He did not want Shmuel to lose out on what was rightfully his, and for himself he was content to suffice with the blessings that are awarded to one who gives in. Little did this very mature thirteen-year-old know how rich these blessings would be.

Exactly one year later, Efraim was at the bedside of his ailing mother in Hadassah Hospital. Her health was failing and the prognosis was grim. At that very same time Rav Elyashiv was in the same hospital, recuperating from his life-saving surgery performed by Dr. Daniel Clair, chair of the Department of Vascular Surgery at The Cleveland Clinic. Among accomplished and celebrated doctors, Dr. Clair is in a league of his own, performing procedures that others would be wary to attempt.

On Shabbos, when the hospital minyan sought a baal koreh, Efraim was at the ready. His preparations from one year earlier had not been for naught, and he rendered a perfect kriah that everyone, including Rav Elyashiv, deeply valued.

So much so, Rav Elyashiv sought to speak with the youngster. This private conversation – something that had not been afforded to a young man since Rav Elyashiv’s frailty – was already a priceless bar mitzvah gift, as belated as it was. But it would yet get better.

“You have done me a favor by providing this invaluable service,” the Gaon thanked Efraim. “Now what can I do for you?”

A bit abashed at the idea of collecting a favor from the gadol hador, Efraim nonetheless quickly gained his composure, for there was something that he sorely wanted. “My mother,” he appealed, “is in this cardiac ward, which is why I am here this Shabbos. She is in a very weak state, and the doctors do not have a clear path how to save her.”

Rav Elyashiv had a propitious suggestion. He requested that his doctor, the world-famous Dr. Clair, take a look, and the result gave rise to the cure of Efraim’s mother. The bar mitzvah boy’s restraint was rewarded with the greatest dividends.

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Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled Heroic Children, chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.