Zalman understood his responsibility to share in his student’s joy, and he did not let his personal state of bereavement get in the way of this responsibility. He held his feelings in check so he could fulfill his obligations to his student. Many people buckle under pressure and compromise their ideals. During tense, difficult situations, they feel justified breaking the rules. So often we hear people excuse rudeness and even the use of obscenities on the grounds of “I’ve had a bad day.” Too many businessmen allow themselves some “ethical leeway” when the going gets rough or when the stakes are high. But this is not how it should be. Our values must govern our
conduct under all circumstances, even when things are difficult. “I’m having a bad day” is no excuse for being discourteous, dishonest or insensitive, or for neglecting Torah law. As soon as Avraham returned home from the akedah, he found that his wife had died. It is difficult to imagine the feelings that raged in Avraham’s heart at those moments, especially coming so soon after the drama and emotion he had just experienced atop Mount Moriah. And now, faced with the responsibility to bury his beloved wife, he is forced to deal with the shadowy and avaricious natives. The situation was difficult and harrowing, and even absurd (recall that the land was, technically, his), and yet he spoke to the Hittim with the utmost respect, and with complete calm and composure. Moreover, the Ramban comments that the law of the city forbade selling burial plots to those who weren’t residents. In order to purchase the sacred site of Machpelah which he desired, Avraham had to purchase the entire field around the cave, as this was the only legal way to acquire the gravesite. How would we have handled the situation? Many of us, I suspect, would have just bought the gravesite and hope to not get caught, or maybe pull some strings with the local authorities, pay off somebody, or bring in lawyers to find a legal loophole. But Avraham, even in his time of great distress, did things the right way. He did not play any games or look for shortcuts. He made a point of meticulously following all the rules, down the last letter, without any compromises whatsoever. What a powerful model this is for us to follow! We must never compromise our ideals, ethics, values or civility because we’ve having a “bad day,” because we’re under pressure or struggling with a difficult situation. The people around us should not suffer because we had a flat tire or because our stocks went down. We can and should find the inner strength to smile and radiate warmth and love even on a “bad day.” We hope and pray never to be tested. Invariably, however, life will present us with our share of challenges. And when it does, we have a righteous ancestor to whom to look for inspiration. None of us will ever be tested as Avraham Avinu was, and his ability to pass his tests should give us the strength and encouragement we need to pass ours.