Two Stories About Rabbi Yaaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986)
Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky’s remarkable care with respect to every aspect of mitzvos between man and his fellow man—his courtesy, his willingness to extend himself on behalf of others, his sensitivity to others’ feelings—had its source in his constant awareness that every human being is created b’tzelem Elokim (in the divine image).
Reb Yaakov was once talking to someone when a gentile funeral procession passed by. He accompanied the funeral cortege the requisite four amos (six or seven feet). When the person with whom he had been talking expressed surprise, Reb Yaakov told him, “He, too, was created b’tzelem Elokim!”
Rabbi Avraham Kamenetzky, son of Reb Yaakov, was once driving on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. He stopped at a red light, next to a bus that was also waiting for the light to change. As the light turned green, Reb Avraham noticed that there was only one lane of traffic open ahead. Instinctively, he prepared to move quickly to be the first to get into the lane of traffic ahead. Reb Yaakov turned to his son and said, “You can’t go yet. You have to let the bus go first.”
“Why?” asked his son.
“It is kavod ha-brios (respect for fellow beings),” replied Reb Yaakov. “There are more people on the bus than in this car. They deserve respect and preference.”
(Yonasan Rosenblum, “Reb Yaakov,” Brooklyn, NY: Artscroll/Mesorah 1993)