CONTENTS AT A
SUCCEEDING IN THE
MOST FUNDAMENTAL MITZVA
TRUE LOVE FOR ANOTHER ONLY
COMES FROM GIVING
DOESN'T BEING A GIVER
MAKE THE OTHER A TAKER?
BEING GOOD TO OTHERS MEANS
BECOMING A SKILLED EXPERT
FURTHER STUDIES IN THE
MITZVA TO LOVE FELLOW JEWS AS YOURSELF
TREATING PEOPLE WITH
AMAZING TORAH LOVE
THE MITZVA TO LOVINGLY
CORRECT PEOPLE WHO DO WRONG
SUCCEEDING IN THE MOST
"Rabbi Akiva says that 'Love your
fellow Jew as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]' is the most fundamental principle of the
Torah" [Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9].
The verse more fully says, "Love your
fellow Jew as yourself I am G-d." What is the reason that the Torah adds, "I am
G-d?" Isn't the message of the verse clear enough and complete enough? Avos DeRebi
Noson (chapter 16) answers the question for us. It means "I am G-d Who created
him." Never forget that the other person is G-d's creation. The reason why we have to
love the other person is because he is Hashem's creation, a soul of infinite worth in
Hashem's image. The Jew may not mindlessly or mechanically go through motions for the next
guy. That's not just some lump of clay that talks. You are commanded to love, to
appreciate who you are loving and Whose creation you are commanded to love and to fulfill
the high behavior standards that this imposes on You at all times. The more someone is
* close to you
* in need or trouble,
* dependent, vulnerable or defenseless;
the higher the priority to be stringent and
meticulous in these obligations. For example, be particularly careful with the widow,
orphan, convert, baal tshuva, sick, suffering, impoverished, destitute, captive
(kidnapped) or person with any hardship, weakness or emergency.
Rambam writes (Hilchos Dayos), "It is
a commandment, incumbent upon every Jew, to love every single Jew as he loves himself, as
the Torah says, "And you will love your fellow Jew as yourself (Leviticus
19:18)." Therefore, each must speak in praise of each other, and have concern about
the property or money of each other, just as he has concern about his own property or
money and wants honor for himself. One who takes honor by the humiliation of another Jew
has no portion in the world to come."
We are obligated to give people kavod
(honor, respect) and the giving of this honor must be as dear to you as your own honor is
to you (Pirkei Avos, chapter two). Just as you are sensitive about your feelings and
dignity, be sensitive for those of other people. All interaction with people requires
kavod, which must be demonstrated in practical action. Kavod is the same root word as
kavaid (heavy). Respect is attributing weight to the other person. Love alone is not
enough because it is a limited and subjective emotion. Honoring a person is objective and
is defined by the other person, independent of your emotional limitation or shortcoming.
Chazal say that giving kavod is how you come to receive kavod, but not such that you give
it for the purpose of getting kavod. The truly honored person flees from kavod for
himself. Kavod is doing the will of the other person. Between our holidays of Pesach and
Shevuos, we have the semi-mourning practices of the "omer" because Rabbi Akiva's
24,000 disciples did not give kavod to one another, and all 24,000 died during this
"omer" time. Behaving with kavod is very serious in the eyes of G-d. It is at
all times a crucial and central component of proper treatment of your fellow Jew.
A Jew must always behave sweetly and get
along well with people (Kesubos 17a). "Always" means: even with people who are
difficult, even when our perception of "truth" tells us to be harsh; in short,
ALWAYS get along sweetly with others. The Torah's "ways are pleasant and all of its
paths are peace [Mishlay/Proverbs 3:17]."
"It is forbidden for a man to marry a
woman before seeing her. Perhaps he will see in her a thing which is ugly and she will be
repulsive to him, and the Torah says, "Love your fellow Jew as yourself"
[including the Jew you are married to! - Kidushin 41a].
The Piasetzner Rebbe, of Poland, was known
for repeatedly saying to his chasidim, "Remember that the most important thing is to
always do good for another Jew." One chasid heard this over and over. When World War
Two came, the chasid was taken to a concentration camp. Whenever he could, he would do a
kindness for another Jew in the camp. After the war, he said it was these loving words of
his rebbe, "Remember that the most important thing is to always do good for another
Jew," finding opportunities to act on those words and focusing on doing good for
other people, that kept him going through the horrible torture of the camp. How can these
words STEADILY INSPIRE US TODAY?
Pirkei Avos (chapter 5) says, "The one
who says, 'What is mine is yours, what is yours is yours,' is G-dly." Rabbi Shimshon
Rafael Hirsch, in his brilliant commentary, says that I have to come to own something so
that there is meaning in my giving it away to you. Only by my first taking ownership and
then giving to you of my own free will (now that I could have said that I have full right
to it, you don't have any right to it, so go away and don't bother me) do I build kindness
into my heart and practice mercy so as to behave in a holy, G-dly fashion.
In other words, my natural inclination is
to believe that I have the seeming right to withhold, to be possessive and protective of
property, talents and powers that are in my domain and control. It is when I CHOOSE TO
GIVE OF THESE TO YOU OF MY OWN FREE WILL, TO PRACTICE KINDNESS AND MERCY that I use my
property or abilities for its divine purpose of bestowing good on others through my
relinquishment of my hold on my property or energies.
This G-dly attitude and approach is the
meaning of "What is mine is yours, what is yours is yours." The Jew is obligated
to use and give his talents, powers and property. Note that "What is MINE is
yours" comes before "what is yours is yours." So strong is the G-dly
imperative to freely give and to focus on the other person. Imagine the impact on ahavas
Yisroel and chesed (active lovingkindness) performance when people practice this attitude
TRUE LOVE FOR ANOTHER ONLY
COMES FROM GIVING
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, in Sefer Michtav
Mi'Eliyahu, brings the Talmudic teaching [Derech Eretz Zuta, Chapter 2] which says,
"If you want to attach yourself with love to any Jew, HEVAY NOSAY VINOSAIN (do
actively and givingly - more on this principle and on the Hebrew later) for the other
person's good." Through giving, one may come to truly fulfill the central Torah
imperative, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Rabbi Dessler cites that through
giving, one's love for another can come to be as great as one's love for oneself; as
oneself without any difference!
G-d is a giver Who gives unconditionally.
The Jew, ever required to emulate G-d, is a giver who gives unconditionally. Being human,
life presents us with situations in which we have to take. The next person's giving makes
us recipients. When the next person gives to us, we refrain from being takers by
* passively receiving what is given, not
* feeling sincere appreciation
* value and love a person who gives to us
(don't take anyone for granted)
* giving the other the opportunity to be a
giver and do a mitzva.
We are involved in a question of attitude.
Even when an act is, in mechanical terms, taking, the Jew's constant frame of mind is to
be an unselfish and uncompromising giver.
Let's go back to the profound teaching in
Derech Eretz Zuta, "If you want to attach yourself with love to any Jew, hevay nosay
vinosain (do actively and givingly) for the other person's good.
We see something beyond that which Rabbi
Dessler brought in his ingenious and heartwarming discourse (briefly summarized above):
the developing or increasing of love is something that any person CAN CHOOSE TO DO.
The teaching says "right off the
bat," that you can choose to love! It starts by saying, "If you want." It's
your decision. You can choose to love another Jew. How much? So much so that you can
attach to the point of veritable union with the other person! You can "attach
yourself." A person who waits to love before giving, besides suffering the
rigidification of spiritual arthritis, is precluding lasting and meaningful love
relationships and chesed performance. If, on the other hand, I decide to give and then to
love, I will love.
Let me repeat. There can't be enough
If I DECIDE that I will GIVE, then - and
only then - will I LOVE. How much? Enough to attach to another person - to achieve
existential unity, to feel the other's feelings, to understand the other's thoughts, to
respond to the other's situation or needs, to hold back what would hurt or disrespect the
other, to make the other secure and reliant at all times, to be a factory that churns out
non-stop happiness and satisfaction for the one I love...without barrier, hesitation,
condition or limitation.
First, I must make a conscious, volitional
decision to give. Second, I must unhesitatingly, constantly and unconditionally give. It
has to be practical. It has to be real. It has to be active. Third and last is the
resultant gradual development of love in my heart for my beneficiary. For the master of
chesed, this is an ongoing, lifelong job.
It's as if G-d has a sense of humor. You
think you're better off taking. The real world is the world of the soul, which is eternal.
Taking provides fleeting gains of the material world (objects, emotions, gratifications).
Investing in the temporary is poor, foolish investing. Investing in the eternal is wisdom,
is genuine. Taking contracts, lessens, diminishes the soul, which is the true and lasting
G-d only gives. He has no need to take. In
spirituality, closeness is not a matter of physical proximity. Spirituality has no
physical space, physical distance nor physical geography. In spirituality, closeness is a
measure of similarity. Closeness to G-d is emulation of His benevolent, eternal spiritual
attributes; development of one's tzelem Elokim. Giving is a G-dly trait. Tzelem Elokim
endows the human being with infinite worth, beauty and quality. The more Jews develop
tzelem Elokim in themselves and discern tzelem Elokim in each other, the higher the level
of their bond. This comes through giving.
Giving creates more of your soul, the way
exercising builds your muscles, or the way that food makes more of your body (but your
soul, which is non-physical, can never get "too fat" - when it comes to the
soul, "the more the merrier"). Giving expands your eternal spiritual existence -
the part of you that goes beyond the body and lives forever. Giving expands the quality
and quantity of one's spiritual self.
When Jewish people give, they blossom and
expand and grow spiritually. This spirituality stretches out to reach beyond one's
physical self, beyond one's bodily dimensions. With this expanded spiritual self, each
comes to include and enclose the recipient, to envelope the other with love, and to blend
into and to unite into one entity. That is what chesed is to achieve. This is a mark of
the shalaim (whole) person.
Giving expands your soul EVERY TIME YOU
GIVE! When you give, there is this existential expansion. You impart your spiritual entity
into the other (to whom you give). The spiritual is not constrained, defined or limited by
physical boundaries, measures or nature. The spiritual has a nature of its own. Every time
you give, you create more of your soul, making more of your spiritual and eternal
existence and reality. You increase yourself when you give, so giving is the smartest way
to take! Ultimate taking is giving!
The closer, the more vulnerable or
dependent a receiver, the more giving there is in the act. There is quality - not just
quantity. The more the person needs help, the positive, spiritual impact a chesed has
(there is no one closer, more dependent or vulnerable than your spouse or children!). When
it comes to judging you as a human-relations-entity, G-d first and foremost examines how
you treat your spouse. If G-d does not like what He sees (in how you treat your spouse),
He attributes much less weight and much less significance to your being an angel to the
rest of the world. All your philanthropy and benevolence is outweighed, before your spouse
is its primary beneficiary. The biggest giver is the giver to one's spouse and children.
The above teaching from Derech Eretz Zuta
uses the intriguing and significant language of "hevay nosay vinosain," which I
translated as "do actively and givingly". This term has an idiomatic meaning in
Talmudic language, "to do business." For example, if I were a spice trader, I
would be "hevay nosay vinosain" in spices (i.e. I would be "in the spice
business"). The implications in our interpersonal relations context, in general, and
marriage context, in particular, are awesome.
The Talmud knows human nature. Business
people have a profit motive, so they aggressively, actively, shrewdly and continuously
pursue their aims. If you want to attach in love with another person, devotedly seek
his/her well-being the way an aggressive, shrewd, greedy businessperson drives after
money. Be like a driven businessman: to identify needs, vulnerabilities; to identify
feelings, ways to create opportunities to care, help and do what is good for another. This
will promote true love. To use Rabbi Dessler's language, you are driven to give, and
driven away from taking. Unlike in business, your profit will be eternal. In relationships
in particular, the rewards will exceed money.
DOESN'T BEING A GIVER
MAKE THE OTHER A TAKER?
Giving builds love and attachment for the
recipient. Taking builds separation from
* people, and
* opportunity for and fulfillment of the
Torah obligations in chesed, love for fellow Jews and high interpersonal relating
Rabbi Dessler poses an interesting
question. You may ask, "IF I give, does that make my recipient into a taker?"
There are three reasons why the answer is
1. Rabbi Dessler differentiates between the
person who is as active taker and one who receives because you give. A receiver is NOT a
taker because the action is driven by the giver.
2. Plus, the receiver with the correct
kavana (intention) is giving the giver the opportunity to give. So, receiving is a giving
act, when done with the right intentions.
3. Plus, receiving can prompt giving back.
One should never make giving conditional (If you give me then I'll give you) because that
is a form of taking. However, there are occasions when giving by A can be the causality of
legitimate subsequent giving by B.
For example, host A invites guest B for a
meal. After the meal, guest B says Birkas HaMazone (Grace After Meals) with good kavana -
better concentration than usual - intending that the extra merit be counted for host A, in
appreciation for A's generous hospitality. Further, B adds the blessing for the host and
has sincere intention that G-d bless host A and his family for their kindness. Adding
extra kavana and giving a sincere blessing are two ways in which the recipient gives to
the host as a consequence of having been given to. Plus, B gave A the opportunity to give
and do a mitzva. Both A and B have given. They have just given differently.
BEING GOOD TO OTHERS MEANS
BECOMING A SKILLED EXPERT
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Mi'Eliyahu,
Kuntruss HaChesed [Treatise on Lovingkindness]) says that when it comes to developing the
ability to be a master of chesed, a fulfiller of the mitzva of practical lovingkindness
for fellow Jews, it is the same as developing any craft or becoming a professional in any
Rabbi Dessler was known for being brilliant
in just about everything he said. On this basic point, he said something that is
ingenious, practical and valuable. He said that there is a way to become an expert at
being good to other people. Look at the way a professional, an artisan, a craftsman learns
his trade. He studies, he learns from people who know, he acquires skill, he serves
apprenticeship. He sees a thousand things that a layman never sees, when it comes to the
object of his trade.
Let's take an example or two. A shoemaker
does not look at a shoe the way a layman does. You look at the size, color and whether it
will get you from here to there. A shoemaker looks at the kind of leather, the shape of
the leather, the cut of the leather, the holes that the laces go through and the
reinforcement around the perimeter inside the hole to make sure the hole never tears, he
knows about different dyes to make the color last, he looks at the stitches that keep the
heel attached...he knows about things that you don't even know to exist.
A diamond setter looks at the angles and
facets of a diamond, the size and shape, the shape of the ring, how to bend the pins which
protrude from the base of the ring around the diamond so that the diamond is held strongly
in place (to fit so as not to fall out and get lost), how to use machinery and tools to
grind down the ring's pins to perfectly fit the diamond, how to judge the quality of the
diamond and know how much pressure it can take in processing without being cracked, how to
position it to face the right direction so as to look right...again things that the layman
doesn't ever think about.
Being good to another person is like a
profession. The way the craftsman studies the tools, materials, qualities, components,
etc. of his trade, the person who seeks to do genuine good to another person has to study,
like (s)he is in training to be a professional, an artisan or a craftsman; to know other
people, their temperaments, feelings, needs, wants and situations. What are the resources
to be used? How can I do things in the nicest way, the fullest and the most thoughtful and
dignified way? How do I adapt for different people? How many people can I do chesed for?
How many people can I inspire to do chesed? How can I do the most good for the most
people...in the most sensitive, compassionate, respectful and beneficial way...in the most
"professional" way? How can I become a craftsman or artist in the practice of
By learning from people who know how to be
polite and kind, by study of the people you want to be good to, by collecting data, by
analyzing, by growing, by steadily perfecting and honing as you go, by coming to skill and
understanding, you can become an expert at delivering good to another human being.
FURTHER STUDIES IN THE
MITZVA TO LOVE FELLOW JEWS AS YOURSELF
When the Torah commands us, "Love your
fellow Jew as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), it uses perplexing language that is
overlooked in translation. The Torah literally says, Love TO your fellow Jew as
yourself." The "TO" is left out of translations, but that is what is
actually there in the original Hebrew: viahavta LI-rayacha kimocha. What is the Torah
teaching? The Torah is always precise and concise. Word choices are profoundly significant
In order to deliver love (as Rabbi Dessler
would have it: through appropriate beneficial giving), how does one do it?
Giving has to deliver what the RECEIVER
NEEDS TO RECEIVE. To use an analogy, giving can be like having a gun and not knowing how
Think about the word "to." Let's
say you're driving on a highway. There's a sign, TO Albuquerque, TO Newark, TO Miami. The
word "to" is, in word form, like an arrow that points TO, that directs you TO a
When the Torah says "to love 'TO' your
fellow Jew as yourself," it is teaching us to direct, to aim, to target our giving
and our love and our beneficence TO the needs, feelings, taste, situation, dignity, choice
and reality of the other person. "To" focusses us on the specific details which
apply to the other person; "to" which you must lovingly and actively deliver;
with no margin for error, omission or damage. The other, in each case, defines
"love" by what (s)he needs and is. The other is the one who is, in essence, the
DESTINATION of the love, of the giving, of the goodness that you are delivering
The other person is integral to defining
what is GOOD. The love has to be good TO your recipient! It is not love when you give what
you conveniently have, or what you impose because of projection of your needs or taste!
When your giving IS good and DOES good TO your recipient, that is LOVE, in the Torah's
The Baal Shem Tov said that you know that
you have many faults, nevertheless you still love yourself. "Loving your fellow
Jew" is feeling the same way about others. Love him, despite his faults. The great
eighteenth century chasidic rabbi, Elimelech of Luzinsk, said, "At EVERY moment,
every Jew must only see the MA'ALOS (positive attributes) of every other Jew, and NEVER
see their chisronos (shortcomings)."
Ramban, on his commentary to the Torah,
says that loving your fellow Jew as yourself means to want good for him in all ways, just
as you would want good for yourself in all ways. The love for yourself and for the other
should have the same weight in your mind. One should do abundance of good for another,
without limitation, as one would do or want for himself. Except in cases of damage or
murder (i.e. where you may protect yourself from harm or sue for damages or robbery), one
should want his fellow Jew to have wealth, property, honor, knowledge and wisdom - without
ever having jealousy for any good that comes to another and wanting good for the other as
much as one would want all good things for himself.
Rabbi Yonosan Eibshitz made an intriguing
observation. When someone comes to a rabbi asking him to determine whether a certain
animal is kosher or not, he will accept the reply that it is not kosher with a good
attitude, even though this causes considerable financial loss. However, if the same person
comes to a rabbi asking him to determine a financial dispute with another person, he will
be angry at the rabbi for deciding against him, even when his financial loss is very
small. Why is there this difference in attitude? When someone is told that his meat is not
kosher, he accepts the loss graciously because no one else gains. But in a financial
dispute, his loss is the other person's gain and this fills him with jealousy.
To put it a different way, jealousy, anger
and hate are not traits of one who serves Hashem. The one who has emuna (faith in Hashem)
realizes that Hashem is big enough to give to each person what Hashem deems, in His
ultimate and infinite wisdom, what is appropriate for each person to have. The person with
emuna says, "What I have and what you have is Hashem's will and is for the best for
both of us. There is enough room in the world for both of us to have what we each need and
Hashem gives us what we truly need at any given time." To feel anything bad at what
anyone else has amounts to disbelieving that Hashem knows what is for the best or that
Hashem can give what He wants to whom He wants. This is denial of belief in Hashem (or
redefining emuna in one's own selfish and erroneous terms).
When a gentile, who wanted to convert, came
to Hillel and presumptuously demanded, "Teach me the Torah in the time it takes to
stand on one foot," Hillel answered, "What is hateful to you, do not do to
another. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn." (Talmud
The central principle of the Torah is
"Love your neighbor." This is worded in positive (i.e. active) language. Why did
Hillel use negative language (ie. do not do)?
Hillel saw that this person was not able to
take on as heavy an obligation as to actively do good for others. It was enough to tell
him not to hurt anybody. To tell him to do good or to love another unconditionally as
himself would have been over this man's understanding. So all that could be asked of such
a person is to not do any harm (Chidushay Harim).
You may think that real love is for someone
who is the opposite of you. But this can be disproven. You "love" someone who is
opposite of you because that person has something which you don't have. That other person
can give to you what you don't have. Since you love getting what you don't have, this is
really self-love, which is never true love.
Then, you may think that love true love is
for someone who is the same as you. But if you love what you identify with in yourself,
this is also self-love and, of course, not pure love.
So what does the Torah mean when it says to
love your fellow Jew AS YOURSELF?
If your neighbor is a different category of
person, he constitutes no threat or diminishment, so it is easy to love him. If you are
rich or honored, loving a person of lower station or esteem is no trick. If you are a
shoemaker, the local grocer is no competition so it is no big task to love him. But when
someone is AS YOURSELF, he diminishes your limelight or business, that is true love. When
you love someone who is AS YOURSELF - similar in a way that could be a disadvantage or
cost you - and still you fully love him, this is true love (Arvay Nachal).
Loving AS YOURSELF also means someone in
your financial or social station - someone who is your type of fellow man, someone who has
a similar type of income level, status, esteem or level of Torah wisdom. It is easy to
befriend or love a person who exceeds you in wealth, Torah knowledge or social status. It
is easy to befriend or love a person of lower financial or social standing because you
pity him. However, the Torah says to love and befriend the person who is AS YOURSELF - in
financial, spiritual, social terms - without feelings of competition, animosity,
insecurity or jealousy. By showing sincere love and friendship to the person who is
similar to you financially, spiritually, intellectually or socially, you fulfill the
mitzva to LOVE AS YOURSELF the person who IS AS YOURSELF (Likutai Dovid).
When one leaves this world, one only has
thereafter that which he spiritually acquired here. Of everything else, one has limited
rights to and temporary possession of. Physical resources (one's money, body,
intelligence, status in society, time, energy, etc.) are for the investment in the
spiritual. The greatest single direction for investment is to make practical the central
principle of the Torah: love your fellow Jew as yourself.
The Rosh [Pesachim, perek aleph, simmon
yod] quotes Rabeinu Tam discussing why some brochos for mitzvos have "al" [e.g.
"al netilas yadayim"] and some have "le" [e.g. "lehadlik nair
shel Hanuka"]. In brief, for those which have "al," the act that one is
doing is the actual mitzva [e.g. as soon as you wash the hands, the mitzva "netilas
yadayim" has been accomplished]. Those which have "le" start now and the
mitzva continues into the future [e.g. the Hanuka lights are to continue burning after the
Similarly, the mitzva to love every Jew,
commanded with the word "le [to]," starts now and continues. You are obligated
to interact benevolently with every Jew for your entire life. Every act towards every Jew
has consequences not only at the moment when you interact with the person, and not only in
this world after the time of interaction, and not only in future generations;
ramifications of every interchange with every Jew are eternal. All accounts are settled
mida kinegged mida (measure for measure), for good or bad, factoring in every effect that
will ever be produced. In both practical and spiritual terms, the impact of your behavior
on people can be very lasting - for good or bad.
Further, a bain adam lechavairo
(interpersonal) mitzva may require follow through. It would not suffice to make a
perfunctory, indifferent, mechanical and superficial gesture. A kindness or good deed must
be done with heartfelt concern and responsible follow-through.
For example, if someone is sick, to hop
over and say, "Hope ya get better, see ya" will "miss the boat." Does
the person need food, medicine, company, encouragement, a ride to the doctor, financial
help or the saying of Tehillim? The Talmud tells how a student of Rabbi Akiva was ill and
no one was visiting him, much less caring for him. When he found out that the student was
ill, Rabbi Akiva went to his room and cleaned the floor, which was dirty. The student said
that Rabbi Akiva saved his life (Nedarim 40a). When a yeshiva student in B'nei Brak
contracted a serious throat disease, he was not receiving adequate attention. When the
Chazone Ish found out, he bought a bottle of honey and took a cab to visit the boy. The
visit aroused concern and more people gave needed attention to the boy (Chazon Ish
biography). The obligation to visit the sick falls on everybody, even someone esteemed,
and there is no limit to the number of times that a person should visit the sick. The more
one visits the sick, the more meritorious, so long as the visits are not strenuous on the
patient (Yora Daya 335:2).
We see that a mitzva on behalf of another
person starts with the onset of the person's need and continues into the future for as
long as the other person's need continues. All the while that the need remains, the mitzva
remains in effect. We must do all that we can, continue to do so and get others involved -
so that the recipient's needs are completely, respectfully and effectively satisfied.
A further demonstration that love is
integrally tied to giving is that the Hebrew word ahava (love) is related to the Talmudic
word hav (give).
Add to hav the letter alef, which
numerically equals one, and that is the root word for love. When you give according to
what the other ONE needs and will benefit from, relative to the reality of the other
person, this produces love and achieves what love means on a practical level.
Audiences enjoy the two following humorous
examples when I speak on this in public.
1. We all know the joke about the boy who
joined the cub scouts and was told to do a good deed every day. One day, he was getting
worried because it was near the end of the day and he had not yet done his good deed. He
smiled with glee as he saw a little old lady standing on the street corner. He took her by
the arm and walked her across the street, proud as a peacock at his good deed. She lifted
her umbrella, smashed him over the head with it and said angrily, "I didn't want to
2. Sam and Becky get married. Sam loves
opera, Becky can't stand it. Sam is bent on broadening Becky's "cultural
perspective." He is going to enlighten Becky to the greatness and delights of opera.
For her birthday, Sam presents her with two tickets to the opera. For her this is torture.
"Besides," she says, "what's so artistic about fat people howling at each
other? Maybe we could play a game of mahjong?"
Sam and Becky are not communicating. HIS
GIVING IS NOT HER RECEIVING. Their terms for "giving" are different. In order to
achieve "giving" Sam has to aim, as if TO a target. His brand of giving isn't
BEING or DOING good for his "better half."
The alleged "giving" of 1. our
dear cub scout and 2. our friend Sam, are the kind that can do more harm than good. That's
not giving. What opera is to Sam, mahjong is TO Becky. Letting her play mahjong is giving
love TO her the way going to opera is TO Sam. The "case is closed" on Sam's
TREATING PEOPLE WITH
AMAZING TORAH LOVE
A mother of seven was diagnosed with a
dangerous cancer. For almost a year (as of this writing) she has been in the hospital most
of the time. Neighbors took her children in. Four families each took in one of the
children. I know one Chasidic family, let's call them the Schwartzes, which alone took in
three of the children and treated them like family. Before the mother became ill, the
Schwartz family did not even know the family whose mother was ill! Their only
"relationship" was that they were in the neighborhood a couple of blocks away
and they heard of the need.
The Schwartzes referred to the 11, 10 and 8
year old children as "our cousins," to make them all feel comfortable and
welcome. The visiting children were well behaved and were treated no less lovingly than
the Schwartz's own children.
Another neighbor single-handedly raised
$40,000 for this ill woman's enormous medical expenses. The sick woman's husband had to be
with her almost continually. The husband's boss at work, also a pious chassid, kept the
husband on full pay the whole time, even though he worked a few token hours a week and he
was caring for his wife almost full-time.
The sick woman's father had a frail heart.
After about a half year, the woman's condition had her in serious and visibly evident
physical deterioration. Upon seeing his daughter one time, he was so aggrieved that he had
a massive heart attack and died. As if the family didn't have enough "tzoris
(trouble)," they now were sitting shiva (seven days of mourning) for the grandfather.
Neighbors brought platters of food for the mourning family "like from a
caterer," as one person put it.
The Schwartzes went out of their way to
make the visiting children happy and to shield them from sorrow (their's mother's
frightening critical condition and the loss of their grandfather gave them enough
emotional burden). When the 10 year old boy wanted a plum, Mrs. Schwartz went to the fruit
store with the boy and bought him a plum. When he wanted a bike, Mr. Schwartz took him to
the store and bought him a bike. When the children wanted to go to the park, the husband
drove them to a nearby park and a teenage Schwartz daughter supervised the playing. The
Schwartz children made clear and effective effort to be pleasant and friendly to the
Because the Schwartzes were so kind and
generous to the visiting children, they and the other children in this family wanted to
visit the Schwartzes regularly. Even on occasions when the mother was a bit stronger, any
possible grouping of three children from this family were invited to the Schwartzes for a
shabos. When the mother needed to go away for a rest, three of the children stayed for a
few weeks with the Schwartzes.
The Schwartzes are chasidic. The parents of
the visiting children are not, so the pronunciation of the children's names was according
to the non-chasidic custom they grew up with. As part of the Schwartz's overall demeanor
of friendliness and respect, they pronounced the names of the children the way the
children were used to. The Schwartzes paid attention to every possible detail to make
their every chesed complete.
The children's grandmother, the widow of
the man who passed away, was distraught at the loss of her husband. She was in despair and
depression day after day. She stayed alone in her home and cried. Mrs. Schwartz started
phoning her regularly, often three and four times a day, and, when the older woman was
emotionally ready for it, Mrs. Schwartz started inviting her over to the house. She went
around with Mrs. Schwartz on her daily rounds (shopping, etc.) during the week and she
stayed over with the Schwartzes on shabosses. Mrs. Schwartz treated the older lady like a
long-time family friend, keeping her company and keeping her occupied and happy. If the
grandmother was ever reluctant about leaving her home, Mrs. Schwartz would say something
like, "I need your opinion about what to buy," to help get her out and occupied.
The grandmother had one child who was as
yet unmarried, a son who lived with her. When he was home, she had his company. During the
day, the son worked, and in the evening the son went to shul for mincha and maariv
(evening services). Mrs. Schwartz strove to keep company with the grandmother during
daytime hours, but had to give her evenings to her husband and children. Another neighbor,
a woman with eight children, made a point to take the grandmother for a walk or keep her
company in the evenings when the grandmother's son was at the synagogue. This way, either
the son, Mrs. Schwartz or the other neighbor always kept the distraught and brokenhearted
When the sick daughter, the mother of the
seven children, passed away from her illness, a ten year old son was so broken that he
could not face being in his motherless home. The Schwartzes bought a bunk bed for the room
of their young son and moved him in to their house like one of the family. Other members
of their family (the six other children, the widower-father and the widowed grandmother)
were regularly invited for shabos meals and were kept in touch with through the week. The
Schwartzes accepted no monetary reimbursement for the son who was living with them. It was
as if he were family.
Aside from this, Mrs. Schwartz had a
neighbor whose little boy had been diagnosed with cancer. When he was hospitalized, she
ran to the hospital regularly. When he was home, she treated him like a "ben bayis
(member of the household)." He could come over and visit all he wanted. She made him
so comfortable and happy that he came two or three times most days. She gave him toys,
rented a video player so he could watch tapes of their family simchas, made for him what
he wanted to eat and she encouraged her little boy to play with him like a brother. For
four years, she gave enormous time and energy to this little fellow. He, baruch Hashem,
seems to be recovering and he remains a welcome part of the Schwartz family.
The Schwartzes are people who feel sad when
they don't have guests on Shabos or Yom Tov. On weeks when it looks like the table will be
bare of Shabos or Yom Tov guests, Mrs. Schwartz phones singles to actively invite them to
come. Her calls are always cheerful, she speaks as if the guest is doing her family the
favor by coming, she tells each that it would be a pleasure to have them, and she
literally screams with joy when the person agrees to come ("yay!"
"terrific!" "great - we're looking forward!"). When Mrs. Schwartz
finds out that a guest likes a certain food, without taking away from the usual foods that
her family likes, she will also cook or buy the item that the guest likes, to make the
guest happy. The family is Yiddish-speaking, but if ever one of their guests is
English-speaking, the entire family switches to all-English, out of respect and
consideration for the guest. She tells them that they each add so much to the meal and
that she appreciates their coming. She tells them to please come again and she tells them
with clear and heartfelt sincerity, "Don't JUST SAY you're coming again. Please do.
Really." Mr. Schwartz tells people that it is a privilege to have the person for a
guest. Members of the family, including the teenage children, tell the guest that they
enjoyed the company. They manage to find something to give the visiter a sincere
compliment about. I remember Mrs. Schwartz once saying that a young woman who came lit the
Yom Tov candles "eidl" (with beautiful devotion to the mitzva). I remember a
teenage daughter telling a guest that she got a lot from his d'var Torah. One guest liked
a certain kind of nosh. Every time he came for a shabos meal, a plate with this nosh was
served him each time as if a steady part of his meal.
All of the Schwartzes did every last thing
with a smile, with enthusiasm and with love. I know the "Schwartzes" for many
years and I saw all this myself.
An elderly lady once emotionally said to me
that she was a guest for shaboses in a home which "has so much love." What is
striking about this story is that the lady, who was in her late seventies at the time, had
not been raised observantly. Because of the enormous love in this particular family, she
was influenced by it and became frum at this advanced age. The wife helped the lady
acquire a shaitl. The children called her "bubbi [grandma]" as if she was part
of the family. She had difficulty walking on her pain-ridden old feet, so two of the
teenage daughters always walked her all the way home every time she came for regular
shabos and yom tov meals. I myself saw this family's love transform this woman into a
practicing Jew. I knew this woman before and after she started covering her hair. Because
of their apparent love-atmosphere, this family was a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of
The midrash says "Derech eretz [civil,
polite and thoughtful conduct] comes before Torah." One of my readings of this is
that by treating someone so well that they know the exemplary behavior comes because of
the Torah, this can be the step before their taking on the Torah! Your treating someone
properly comes before THEIR Torah! We see this in the true story immediately above.
Just before Pesach one year, the students
of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the father of the "Mussar [Torah self-perfection]
Movement," were about to go to the matza factory to make their own Passover matzos
(as is customary for many people). The laws of chometz and matzo are difficult and
stringent. They asked Reb Yisroel what they should be strict and careful about. He
answered his student that the workers at the matza factory are predominantly widows and
they should be very careful not to do anything to hurt their feelings.
Rabbi Yisroel was once a guest in well-off
man's home, which was at the top of a hill. When washing before the meal, he only washed
his fingers and not his entire hands. When asked why he did not wash his entire hands,
according to the usual procedure, he replied that the maid has to carry heavy buckets of
water from a well up a hill to supply water to the house. The faster water is used up, the
harder she had to work. He was washing in the minimal manner allowed by Torah law so that
she would not have to suffer.
When Hillel, President of Jewry, heard that
a rich man lost his money, Hillel gave the poor man a horse to ride on and a servant to
run in front of him, to make him feel rich again and restore his happiness. One day, the
servant did not show up and Hillel himself ran in front of the poor man (Kesubos 67b).
Pirkei Avos 1:15 says to receive everyone
with a "saiver ponim yafos (cheerful countenance)." Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
says this means that our conduct with and approach to each person should be so genuinely
friendly that they will be convinced we are kindly disposed towards them and ready to do
all the good that is reasonably possible to do for them.
THE MITZVA TO LOVINGLY
CORRECT PEOPLE WHO DO WRONG
The greatest gift you can give a Jew is
eternal life. When a Jew sees another Jew do something which is not good, in the eyes of
the Torah, it is a mitzva to correct him and bring him back in repentance. This gives him
eternal reward, which far outweighs any gift or kindness of a type which is limited to
this world. There are many rules associated with this mitzva. The mitzva only applies when
one can accomplish the correction according to the Torah's rules. Properly conducted and
achieved correction fulfills the Torah obligation to love your fellow Jew...the one(s) you
A famous Torah speaker was hired many years
ago to speak to a large auditorium filled with retired religious Jews, in a Florida hotel.
The speaker told the following story.
In the Chofetz Chayim's town, Radin, there
lived a Jew who owned a store and he kept his store open on shabos. The Jewish people of
the town repeatedly asked him to close his store on shabos. The owner obstinately refused.
Word got back to the Chofetz Chayim that a Jew in Radin kept his store open on shabos and
he sent for the man. Recognizing that he had been summoned by a great man, the store owner
came to the tzadik's home.
The Chofetz Chayim did not say a word of
chastisement. He sat down and gently motioned to the store owner to sit down in a chair
facing him. The Chofetz Chayim took the man's hand in his own and started crying. Tears
were dripping down from his cheek and fell on to the man's hand, as the Chofetz Chayim
gently held it in his own and, while crying, simply said in a sincere and sorrowful crying
voice, "Shabos, shabos." From the gentle impact of the Chofetz Chayim's tears
falling on his hand, the man decided on his own to close his shop on shabos and become a
frum [observant] Jew.
After the speaker finished saying this
story, a man in the back of the audience, stood up and said, "I can attest to the
truth of that story. I am that man."
Some people are tempted to speak to others
in pejorative, judgmental or nasty ways. This can ruin marriages, harm children or send
them off the derech [away from Torah life], be sadistic or make chilul Hashem [desecration
of G-d]. Since Torah deals with everything, and corrective communicating is basic, let me
share some principles on how Jews are obligated to talk to other Jews.
Hurting with words or shaming, especially
in front of other people, can cause the talker to lose his share in the world to come. The
Torah does NOT agree with the common saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones
but names will never harm me." Words can anguish, humiliate and crush a person;
especially someone in some vulnerable position, such as a young person, one's employee or
creditor, an orphan or a widow. The pain is so severe and damaging, that, the gemora tells
us, verbal hurting is one of the few sins for which G-d does not send a malach [emissary]
to punish - He does the punishing Himself: rapidly, firmly and furiously. In psychological
terms, mean words, especially delivered with intense emotion, can be very devastating and
destructive, emotionally crippling the personality. When communicating, always listen
calmly, be truly and substantively responsive to what the other says.
Moshe said to us, "Aichoh [How can] I
bear the troubles you impose on me [Deuteronomy 1:12]? When he would give a ruling against
one person and in favor of another, the people would say, "I have more witnesses,
bring more proof against me, add more judges." The book of Lamentations [about the
destruction of the Holy Temple] starts with "Aichoh" [How can] this tragedy have
happened?" The gemora [Bava Metzia 30b] says that Jerusalem was destroyed because the
people demanded their rights, instead of going beyond the letter of the law, in
interpersonal matters. We see that G-d wants us to not impose, hurt or trouble each other.
Being strict brings to destruction. Even when empowered by "rights," even by
rights taught to us by Moshe, even by rights that could be explained by Torah law, when
one is strict or demanding on others, society and relationships cannot function or endure.
G-d wants us to extend ourselves to only be good to one another.
If, when correcting or criticizing another;
there is anger, fighting, hurting, harshness, shaming or steamrolling; or if the
listener's Yiddishkeit is jeopardized by [perceived or real] verbal abuse or attack, the
whole thing is generally not worth it, and is certainly not Torah. The laws apply to
correcting all Jews, including members of one's own family. There are some exceptions
[e.g. be harsher against public Chilul Hashem, serious sin against G-d or Torah, or a sin
that can influence others to do that sin; but check ALL practical questions with a rov
Wise and Torah-based rebuke is soft and
positive, builds the person up, makes him love or appreciate the one correcting him, makes
him want to improve (of his own volition), makes him want to grow closer to and serve G-d,
and want to obtain eternal life. All of the Torah's ways are sweet and peaceful [Mishlay
Criticizing or correcting another for doing
something wrong is a concept called tochocha [correction]. When proper, it is a mitzva.
Like all mitzvos, tochocha has many rules. If you do not have the knowledge or wisdom to
give Torah-based correction successfully, it is a sin - and the mitzva is to NOT SPEAK.
Rabbi Chayim of Velozhin wrote [Kesser Rosh, #143] that if one cannot rebuke in a
pleasant-toned voice, the mitzva to admonish does not apply.
Rambam [Dayos, chapter six] explains
tochocha [my translation of Rambam follows]. "It is a commandment incumbent upon the
Jew to let [the offender] know [he did wrong] and ask him, 'Why did you do to me this and
that? Why did you sin against me in this matter?' If [A, the offender] returned [in
repentance] and asked from [B, the victim] to forgive him, he must forgive A. B must not
be cruel about forgiving. When a Jew sees his fellow Jew sin, or go in a way which is not
good, it is a commandment to return [the one who did wrong] to the good, and to make known
to him that he is sinning against himself with his wrong behavior. This is as the Torah
says (Leviticus 19:17), 'You will surely correct your fellow Jew.' The person who corrects
his fellow Jew does so whether for sins committed against a person or against G-d and must
do so in private. He must speak to [the person he is correcting] gently and with a soft
tongue, making it clear that he is only speaking for his good and to bring him to the
eternal life of the world to come. If [the listener] accepts from [the one correcting],
that is best. If he does not [accept], he will correct him a second time, and third time;
and similarly he is obligated to constantly repeat the correction until the sinner [is
just about to curse or to] hit him and he says, 'I am not listening.' Whenever it is
possible and in one's power to protest, and he does not protest, he is [considered by the
Torah to be a participant] drawn into those sins since he could have prevented them. One
who corrects his fellow must, at the start, not speak to him harshly so as to cause [the
listener] shame. This is as is written [in the next phrase of Leviticus 19:17, the same
verse which commands correcting a fellow Jew], 'And do not carry sin on account of
[correcting] him.' Thus our sages [Arachin 16b] said, 'You might think that you are able
to correct him to the point at which his face changes [e.g. the face grimaces, gets red or
angry]. The Torah comes to say [to correct but to] "Not carry sin on account of
correcting him."' From here we know that it is forbidden to embarrass a Jew, and all
the moreso when in front of people. Even though [the bais din - Torah court] does not
[punish] him with lashes, [shaming] is a huge sin. Thus said our sages, 'One who shames a
Jew in public has no portion in the world to come.' Therefore, each person must be very
careful to never embarrass a Jew in front of people whether [the victim would be] child or
adult. This includes never calling someone any name from which he would be embarrassed and
never saying a thing [whose meaning or inference might cause him to be] embarrassed from
If someone tells you that you are doing
wrong, and it is questionable whether the rebuke is justified, ask the person to show you
the halacha. If the person cannot, tell him to send someone to you who can. For example,
if someone tells you your shirt is the wrong kind to wear in shul on shabos, there is no
halacha which says just what shirt to wear, but you should wear a shirt that is different
from what you wear during the week and it should give kavod [respect, honor] to shabos. If
the two cannot come to agreement themselves, the shul's rabbi should be asked. However,
this should all take place in private, be spoken about gently and considerately, with no
anger nor ill-will, no embarrassing nor degrading, no fighting nor hurting; this should
not involve personality clash (but only be a quest for the halachic truth in the matter),
while keeping peace and protecting the feelings and dignity of all concerned.
In 1923, the Chafetz Chaim was asked to be the keynote
speaker at the first Agudath Yisroel convention in Vienna. They asked him to speak on how
he became "a Chafetz Chaim." He said that when he was young, he saw the faults
of the Jewish world and saw that he had to change it. So, he tried to change the Jewish
world, and he couldn't. So, he tried to change the Jews of his country Poland, and he
couldn't. So, he tried to change the Jews of his town Radin, and he couldn't. So, he tried
to change the Jews of his shul, and he couldn't. So, he tried to change the Jews of his
family, and he couldn't. So, he decided to change himself. And, when he changed himself,
he became the Chafetz Chaim, and he changed the Jewish world.