Our Sages teach us that Rabbi Akiva had twelve-thousand pairs of students and they all died in a plague during the period between Pesach and Shavuot. The reason why these righteous scholars were punished so harshly was because they did not respect one another.
Certainly, this does not mean that they denigrated one another; rather, they were expected to treat one another with more respect based on their level of greatness.
Let us quote an unbelievable incident which portrays the tremendous inter-personal sensitivity the great Gaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l behaved with and we will understand how much we must act with respect to one another.
Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was one of the luminaries of his generation and was the chief halachic authority in the United States. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l once remarked, “Do you know whom you can recite the ‘She’chalak Me’Chochmato Li’re’av’ upon nowadays? You may certainly recite it upon Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein but I am not sure if it can be recited upon anyone else.” When Maran zt”l would study Hagaon Rav Moshe’s works, he would be astonished by the author’s sheer genius.
When Harav Feinstein was older, it became increasingly more difficult for him to walk to his Yeshiva which was near his home. His relatives approached a philanthropist who made a car available for the venerable sage to transport him from one place to another. A Kollel student was appointed as the rabbi’s driver and he readily and joyfully accepted this new position. Every day, this young Kollel student thought of ways to make the rabbi’s time in the vehicle more comfortable. He would always get up and open the door for the Rav and he would help him enter and exit the car.
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Feinstein happily returned the favor and he would answer the young man’s questions and converse with him throughout the ride.
Once, when driving the Rav from the Yeshiva to his home, the young man opened the door for the Rav and after he was seated, the driver failed to notice that the Rav’s fingers were still clutching the side of the door and he slammed the door hard on the Rav’s fingers.
In a split second, the Rav decided not to cry out in pain and instead to be silent and wait until the young man turned around at which point he would open the door and release his fingers. When the driver turned around, the Rav tried to open the door but it was locked. Even so, the Rav decided to keep silent, for he would arrive home in several moments in any case.
During the ride, the young man began to converse with the rabbi, “How is the rabbi feeling?” The Rav responded, “Baruch Hashem, everything is fine.” The conversation continued but the pain was unbearable and the great sage wished to arrive home already.
Not far from the Rav’s home, there was a huge traffic snarl and the car could not proceed forward. The Rav turned to the driver and asked, “Maybe I should walk the rest of the way home since the traffic is not moving anyway?” The young man replied, “G-d-forbid! I have accepted the job of taking the rabbi from door to door so that the rabbi should not exert himself.” The great Gaon once again fell silent and continued bearing the excruciating pain quietly.
When they finally arrived at the Rav’s home, the Rav got out of the car and walked towards his house; when he saw that the young man drove away, the great sage turned around and fell faint on the ground.
An ambulance was immediately called and the Rav was taken to the hospital. The doctors asked him what happened but he refused to say. When the doctors implored him to tell them so that they would be able to provide him with the appropriate medical treatment, the Gaon finally disclosed what had happened. His relatives were shocked and asked the Rav, “Was this necessary? You could have caused yourself irreversible damage including not being able to write the books which illuminate the eyes of the Jewish nation with your brilliance any longer! Would it not have been simpler to tell the young man to open the door for you?”
The great sage replied, “This young man does everything for me to have a good feeling while he drives me around. How can I hurt him by making him aware that he caused me terrible pain? He will certainly never forgive himself! It was therefore necessary for me to be silent at any price.”
This is the behavior of one who succeeded in purifying himself and his actions completely. Let us learn from his actions the importance of paying attention to the feelings of one another and certainly not to hurt one another.