Don't harm your fellow man…” (25:17). Rashi writes, "This verse prohibits, one shouldn’t harm his fellow man [with words] and one shouldn’t give bad counsel…"
The Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 338) writes, "It is proper for people to be cautious that their words do not insult others, even indirectly. The Torah is very stringent with this prohibition... For many people, words hurt more than being cheated financially… One must also be cautious not to harm children with words — except for the times when it is needed for education purposes. This also applies to one’s own children and to all the people of his household. Those who deal softly with children, and do not cause them sorrow, will find life, brachah and kavod [honor]…"
The Gemara says, to hurt people with words, is worse than cheating people financially… Shaming someone is comparable to murdering him… Three people go to Gehinom and never leave: Someone who commits adultery, someone who embarrasses his friend in public, and someone who calls his friend with a derogatory nickname…. Those who embarrass others in public, lose their share in Olam HaBa… It is better to be thrown into a furnace than to embarrass your friend in public… One must be particularly cautious from offending your wife, because her tears come easily, so the punishment also comes quickly…. All sins get punished by messengers [angels] aside for hurting people with words, which Hashem Himself punishes...]" (Bava Metzia 59).
The Yerei’im teaches, "Just as there is hurting with words, there is hurting with facial expressions." When you look at someone, the person can perceive whether you respect him or whether you are looking at him condescendingly. He knows whether you love him or hate him, and so on. As the saying goes, it’s possible to kill someone with your nose, if you turn your nose in a derogatory manner towards a fellow man. Therefore one should be cautious to always think positive about others, and then you will not shame or harm them. You won’t even show them an ugly face, which can hurt so much, and is also a form of hurting with words.
Reb Avraham Fisher Shlita told me that as a child, he was once playing with the cats outside Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil's zt'l home. The Rebbe came out of his house and warned him to be careful not to hurt the cats. This is an example of the Rebbe's concern not to hurt anyone or anything — not even the cats. We should also acquire this sensitivity, and be aware not to harm anyone with words.
Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil zt'l had an open-door policy where everyone was welcome. One of his steady guests was Reb Yaakov, a tall, very overweight, ignorant Yid, who also had a terrible odor. He wasn't welcome anywhere— he wasn't even permitted to use the local mikvehs because of the way he smelled — but he was welcome at Rebbe Shlomke’s. Once, while World War II was raging, Rebbe Shlomke said, "If the people of Yerushalayim would permit Reb Yaakov to use the mikveh, the Yidden in Europe wouldn’t suffer so much.”
Rebbe Shlomke’s home was open to all. People said that the only factor that showed that he was the baal habayis was that when someone came in, he would ask them whether they wanted bread or jam. Once, an unstable person came to Rebbe Shlomke’s place, and Rebbe Shlomke, as usual, offered him bread and jam. The slightly deranged man retorted, “You can eat bread and jam! I want pita with eggs.” That was perhaps the only time that Rebbe Shlomke went to the grocery store. He bought pita and eggs, and fried them for his guest. After the man finished his meal, he asked, “And what about the jam?” Rebbe Shlomke brought out the jam, and asked him how much he wanted. “The entire jar,” the man replied, and Rebbe Shlomke gave it to him. There was a bachur from Chevron who slept in Rebbe Shlomke’s home. He asked the Rebbe to wake him up at six in the morning. “I can’t do that,” the Rebbe said. The bachur woke up at six o’clock, and saw that the Rebbe was already sitting at his table, learning Torah. The following night, the bachur asked Rebbe Shlomke once again, to awaken him at six in the morning. “I can’t do that,” Rebbe Shlomke replied. Again, the bachur awoke at six, and saw that Rebbe Shlomke was already awake. That night the bachur asked Rebbe Shlomke why he doesn’t awaken him, since he sees that the Rebbe is awake anyway at that time. Rebbe Shlomke handed him some money and said, “Buy yourself an alarm clock if you want, but I can’t wake you. Upon awakening in the morning, people feel a bit uncomfortable. Even if one wants to wake up early, he feels uneasy the moment when he awakens. I don’t want to cause another Yid distress, even for a short moment.”
Rebbe Pinchas Koritzer’s friend — a great scholar in his own right — fell ill, and Rebbe Pinchas Koritzer went to visit him. Rebbe Pinchas had him promise that after his demise he would come back down to this world to tell him what happened to him in heaven. After his friend's demise, he appeared to Rebbe Pinchas Koritzer and said, “Throughout my lifetime, I never caused pain or distress to anyone. As a reward, it was decreed that I would die without any pain. When my soul left my body, I didn’t realize that I was dying. I heard a doctor tell me that to recover from my illness, I must sleep deeply for a very long time. I didn’t realize that this sleep was my death. Then I heard the doctor say, “Place him on the floor, because he needs to warm up.” I was placed on the floor, as is done to the dead, but I still thought that I was alive. Afterwards, the doctor told people to take me outdoors to get some air. This was actually the funeral. Until I was buried I didn’t know that I had died. It was a perfectly painless and sorrow-free death. After I was buried in the ground, the angels came. They wanted to punish me because ‘there is no tzaddik in the world, who… never sinned,’ and I also have my share of iniquities. However, since I never hurt another Yid, angels of mercy came, and brought me straight to Gan Eden.”
Until today, we see the immense joy that takes place on Lag b'Omer. There’s also a strong feeling of achdus. People from all backgrounds come and dance together as one.
On Lag b'Omer we sing øá éàçåé, "the son of Yochai" which tells Reb Shimon bar Yochai's praises. Why don’t we call Reb Shimon by his name? Why do we mention him by his father's name? It is explained that this is to remind us that Reb Shimon was a child, born from parents. He was a human being. He wasn't a malach. And just as he reached very high levels, we can follow in his footsteps and do the same.
The Nachlas Avos tells that Yochai (Reb Shimon's father) was married for many years and didn’t have any children. Yochai told his wife that he wants to divorce her and marry someone else, so he can have children. His wife didn’t want a divorce. She cried and prayed a lot for children. On the night of Rosh Hashanah, Yochai had a dream. He was in an orchard with many trees. Some were tall, some were small. Yochai saw himself leaning on a small tree, without fruit. He understood that tree represents him. An angel came into the orchard, carrying a barrel of water and began watering some of the trees. Yochai understood that whichever tree the angel watered, meant that person would have a child that year. How he hoped that the malach would pour some water on his sapling as well, so he would merit a child. The malach came to Yochai's tree. This time, he didn’t pour water from the barrel. Instead, the angel took out a small jug of water, and poured it over the tree. The tree immediately sprouted flowers and grew beautiful fruit. When he awoke, he told his wife about the dream. They understood that the dream was bearing good tidings; telling them that they would have a child that year. On motzei Rosh Hashanah, Yochai repeated his dream to his teacher, Reb Akiva. Reb Akiva agreed that the dream meant that they would have a child that year. Yochai asked, "Why didn’t the angel water my tree from the barrel, as he watered all the other trees? What is the significance of that small jug filled with water?" Reb Akiva answered, "This jug wasn't filled with water. It was filled with your wife's tears; the tears she shed to have children. In the merit of those tears you will have a holy child." That year, Reb Shimon bar Yochai was born. We should learn from Yochai, Reb Akiva, and from Reb Shimon never to lose hope. Sometimes it seems like everything is destroyed, but if we don’t lose hope, we can rebuild again.
The Gemara (Shabbos 33:) tells about a time when Reb Shimon, Reb Yosi, and Reb Yehudah were seated together. Also present was Yehudah ben Geirim, and they were talking about the Roman Empire. Reb Yehudah said, "How good are the deeds of this empire. They built marketplaces, bridges, and bathhouses." Reb Yossi was quiet. Reb Shimon said, "Everything they made, they made for themselves [for their wealth and pleasure, therefore they don’t deserve praise]." Yehudah ben Geirim repeated what they said, and one person told the next, until the Roman Empire heard about it. They said, "Yehudah that praised us should be honored; Reb Yosi who was silent should be exiled to Tzipori; and Reb Shimon who disgraced Rome should be killed." That's when Reb Shimon and his son hid, first in a beis medresh, and then when they perceived that they were after them, they hid in a cave. The Romans wouldn’t forgive Reb Shimon for the few words that he spoke against the Roman government. If they would find him, even years later, they would murder him. Therefore, Reb Shimon hid in a cave, almost never leaving it, because he knew that his life was in danger. No one knew where he was – not even his close family. At times, he would go out of the cave for a short while. At one such excursion, he watched a bird hunter. At this point of his life, Reb Shimon was able to hear announcements that were coming from heaven. When the bas kol in heaven said dimus, free, the bird flew away, and wasn’t captured. When the bas kol said sapkula, caught, the bird was caught. Reb Shimon discovered that Hashem's hashgachah pratis is even over birds. Hashem declares which bird will live and which bird will die. Reb Shimon said to his son, Reb Elazer, "If Hashem's hashgachah pratis is even over birds, He certainly has hashgachah pratis over us. If a bird can't be caught without Hashem's decree, the Romans will also not be able to harm us, if it isn't Hashem's will." That is when they courageously left the cave (see Yerushalmi Shviis 9:1). They weren't afraid, because they knew that nothing can happen to them if it isn’t Hashem's will. When a person is hunting birds, he thinks that when he has good aim he succeeds, and when he doesn’t he fails. This story reveals that Hashem is behind everything. It isn't man's might, but Hashem's decree.3 Let us follow Reb Shimon bar Yochai's holy footsteps and be aware that everything is from Hashem, and nothing happens that isn't by Hashem's decree.
Reb Shimon continues to pray for the Jewish nation – for individuals and for the community. As the Beis Aharon zt'l said, "Whoever believes in Reb Shimon bar Yochai, receives chizuk (support) from Reb Shimon bar Yochai. As Hashem is for all, so is Reb Shimon for all, even for the lowly ones."
The Zohar tells us that once, Reb Shimon bar Yochai saw that a great darkness was coming down to the world. Reb Shimon said to his son, Reb Elazer, "Come with me, and we will see what Hakadosh Baruch Hu is planning to do to the world." They went and found an angel, as tall as a large mountain, with thirty flames of fire coming out of its mouth. Reb Shimon asked the angel what it was planning to do, and the angel replied, "Hashem said that there must always be at least thirty tzaddikim in every generation who are similar to Avraham Avinu… But now, there aren't such thirty tzaddikim in the world, and therefore, Hashem sent me to destroy the entire world." Reb Shimon bar Yochai said to the malach, "Return to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and tell him, 'The son of Yochai is in the world.' "The angel went to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and said, 'Master of the world, You certainly know what Reb Shimon bar Yochai told me to tell You.' "Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, 'Go and destroy the entire world, and don’t pay heed to what the son of Yochai says.' "The angel returned. When Reb Shimon bar Yochai saw the angel he said, "If you will not leave, I will decree that you will never return to your place in heaven. I will send you to a forsaken place [and you will be lost, forever]. Therefore, listen to what I tell you. Go to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and say, 'Even if there aren't thirty tzaddikim in the world, twenty tzaddikim are also sufficient. As Hashem told Avraham (18:31), 'I will not destroy if there are twenty tzaddikim.' And even if there are only ten, that is also enough to protect the world from destruction, because Hashem said, (18:32) that He will not destroy the world if there are ten tzaddikim. And even if there are fewer than ten tzaddikim in the world, if there are two tzaddikim in the world (namely Reb Elazar and myself) it is also sufficient. As it states, with two witnesses, the world has existence.' And if there aren't two tzaddikim in the world, one tzaddik is also enough, as it states, the tzaddik is the foundation of the world. "At that moment, a bas kol came forth from heaven and said, 'Reb Shimon, fortunate is your lot. Hakadosh Baruch Hu puts His decrees in heaven, and you annul them from below. About you it is written (Tehillim 145): 'Hashem does the will of those who fear him.'"
The Chidushei HaRim zy’a said: Every year, on Lag b'Omer, Reb Shimon once again cries out his renowned statement, "I can exempt the entire world from the judgment and from punishment!" How does Reb Shimon bar Yochai do this? How can sins be forgotten and negated? To answer this question, Reb Akiva Eigar zt'l (in Gilyon HaShas) advises us to study Avos d'Reb Nosson (ch. 16). There it states another very encouraging statement from Reb Shimon bar Yochai. He said, "The Jewish people never go to Gehinom," as it states, "He knows our yetzer hara." He knows how the yetzer hara is constantly luring us to sin, and how hard it is to serve Him. And therefore, He understands that we aren't totally guilty for our sins. Therefore, He doesn’t let us go to Gehinom.