Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Ahavas Yisroel
Chabakuk Elisha observes:
How many times have I heard people speak about "Ahavas Yisroel" (the commandment to love our fellow Jew)? How many times have I heard that we were exiled from our land, and our Holy Temple destroyed, due to baseless hatred of our fellow Jews?
A hundred? A thousand? More?
I don't know how many - but if there was ever an example of lip-service, this is it. I've heard people speak about this with an urgency, with a passion, and with emphasis - but I don't think people actually think about what those two words mean. I realized early on that when we say Ahavas Yisroel, we aren't thinking about the people we don't like or agree with - rather, we're thinking of how important it is that everyone else should love us.
Watch children, they recognize this instantly. Ahavas Yisroel is interpreted to mean that we must love the people we agree with, or that don't oppose us. I remember that while I was a young student in Yeshiva I heard various Rabbis speak to us about Ahavas Yisroel - but not more than 15 minutes after the speech you could get into a conversation where they would verbally bury other Jewish groups, other Rabbis, or even students. I saw this in not one or two schools - I saw it everywhere.
I speak to friends and acquaintances - and we all believe in Ahavas Yisroel - but everyone (myself included) has their list of Jews that we have little compassion for.
Just recently I heard these words again, but this time I didn't just do the mindless robotic nod to those words. Suddenly, I looked around and thought - Hey! Those words just bounced off the walls here, but no one heard them! Everyone was smiling, nodding, agreeing, but those words made no difference. They were meaningless and insignificant words.
I think we must find a new phrase. Ahavas Yisroel has lost any meaning - maybe we can find a new phrase to express the thought? Maybe we can come up with a phrase that will cause us to think about those words? Any ideas?
A Simple Jew responds:
Chabakuk Elisha, my friend, I agree with you 100% that the term "Ahavas Yisroel" has been rendered meaningless by many people. At the same time, this doesn't mean that Ahavas Yisroel has lost its inherent meaning. If a person misuses soap, it is still soap.
A chassidic rabbi once related to me that the Torah provides a listing of all the birds that are kosher and those that are not kosher. One of the non-kosher variety of birds is the "chasidah". Given its name that is rooted in the word "chesed" - kindness - it would sound like this is a kosher bird. How could a kind bird not be a kosher bird?
The chassidic rabbi explained to me that this bird, the chasidah, is a bird that is only kind to others like it - other chasidah. The lesson we draw from this is that if we are only kind and to others exactly like us we are acting like the chasidah, and thus acting in a way that is not kosher. Behaving like the chasidah is the antithesis of Ahavas Yisroel.
As you rightly pointed out, perhaps the term "Chasidah" is what people have in mind when they say "Ahavas Yisroel".
In order to correct this we need to strive to perceive the holy and pure neshoma in every Jew. Once we do this we will be able to treat our fellow Jew with Ahavas Yisroel and restore the meaning to this term.
Chabakuk Elisha responds:
Very true indeed. But how do we get past the commonly shared mindset that blocks those words from penetrating? My question is really based on the famous adage of the Kotzker Rebbe z"l:
"If we think as we thought, talk as we talked and act as we acted, then we'll be what we were."
Somehow I'd like find a word, a phrase, a way - something that makes us stop, think & understand - to help the message penetrate. I don't know what it is that I'm looking for, but we need a way to teach ourselves, our neighbors, and our children, that Ahavas Yisroel is as important as not turning on a light on Shabbos - if anything, Ahavas Yisroel is the most important mitzvah in Torah.