A Question To Ask Yourself Every Year
A student of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once asked him how he could be assured that he was making progress in his Torah study. Rabbi Steinsaltz replied that he honestly did not know how much the student had accomplished over the past year and advised his student that there was only one person who could accurately judge his progress - the student's wife.
Rabbi Steinsaltz instructed his student to ask his wife whether all the Torah he learned over the past year had contributed into making him into a better person, or whether he had just remained the same. If she told him that he was better person, he would know that indeed was on the right track and could be confident that he was making headway in his studies. If she told him there was no apparent difference, he would know that he would need to start making some changes.
This story resonated with me and I asked my wife this very question on Shabbos morning. My wife responded that she could not tell a noticeable difference. She further noted that there was still one area where I was lacking and could make improvement - Ahavas Yisroel. My wife explained that while I excelled in the way I treated and related to non-Jews and also religious Jews, my dealing with secular Jews, particularly those who were antagonistic towards religious Jews, was lacking.
Ahavas Yisroel - a cornerstone of the derech of the Baal Shem Tov - and I was lacking in this! I didn't dispute my wife's observation and was interested to hear her cite examples of where I did not meet the mark. After Shacharis, I reviewed the Tzemach Tzedek's teaching on this subject in Derech Mitzvosecha. There the Tzemach Tzedek advises one that although a his intellect may become aware of the shortcomings of a fellow Jew, he should never allow this cognitive knowledge to result in negative emotions, felt or displayed towards a fellow Jew.
Is this difficult advice to follow? Indeed it is, especially when one encounters a person who may take an antagonistic stance against you.
However, if this is the benchmark to gauge whether I am succeeding in learning Torah, I must remember that if I profess to love Hashem, I must also love His children.
I came across another piece of advice for Ahavas Yisroel in the process of learning Parshas Pinchas. Moshe Rabbeinu said [Rashi, Bamidbar 27:16],
"Ribbono shel Olam, the personality of each individual is revealed before You; they do not resemble each other. Appoint a leader who can put up with each individual according to his personality."
Moshe then warns Yehoshua about the character of the people he will be charged to lead [Rashi, Bamidbar 27:19],
"You should know they are troublesome, that they are uncooperative."
Hashem instructs Moshe to put "his splendor" upon Yehoshua and informs him that the Jewish people will heed his words when they recognize that his countenance is shining brightly.
The lesson for me behind all of this is clear: I may be fully cognizant of the shortcomings of a fellow Jew, nevertheless, I must relate to this Jew according to his or her unique personality; I must become a shining example of the person Hashem expects me to be.