Question & Answer With Michoel - Challenging Ahavas Yisroel
A Simple Jew asks:
Ahavas Yisroel is a cornerstone of Chassidus. Can you think of an example in your own dealings with your fellow Jews where your Ahavas Yisroel was greatly tested, yet you were able to overcome your natural inclination to respond negatively and you responded in a positive manner; guided by the principal of Ahavas Yisroel?
My first reaction to this question was, "A Simple Jew has got to be kidding! Maasim b'chol yom!".
But the truth is that it is hard to know what the inner kavana of one's actions is. Many times I responded in a positive fashion, not because of pure ahavas Yisroel but because of my own deficiencies. Meaning, I know that I have many faults and I want Hashem to be m'lamed z'cus on me, to act toward me lifnim mishuras hadin, so therefore I force myself to behave toward others in a positive manner. I don't think that qualifies as ahavas Yisroel.
However, there was a time not too long ago that we had an interesting guest over for a seudah. This 30 year old single gentleman brought a small children's toy with him. He fiddled with it constantly and was clearly very attached to it. At one point he got up to use the rest room. When he returned, he exclaimed that the toy was missing and that someone had taken it. He started brooding and implying that one of our kids must have swiped it. Let's just say that my wife and kids were less than thrilled by his strange behavior.
So if I had been with this gentleman by myself, I would have been free to act like a tzaddik and reassure him that everything was fine and that I would help him find his prize possession. However, I needed to make my family feel protected and reassured that I knew they were good kids that would never snatch away a guest's toy chas v' shalom. I was not free to sit on my high horse and "collect cheap z'chusim" by being m'lamed z'chus on someone with difficulties. I had to really focus on finding the right balance between protecting my kids and making them feel secure, and making this gentleman calm and treating him with dignity.
This opportunity to slow down the instincts and thought process allowed some (seemingly) sincere ahavas Yisroel to surface, which guided my reactions. As gently as possible, I explained that I don't think anyone took the toy and that it would certainly turn up soon. Baruch Hashem the toy was soon discovered covered by his napkin. At the end of seudah, I walked him home a bit longer than I normally do, reassuring him that it was an honor and pleasure to have him. I later explained to my kids that making a person with difficulties comfortable (even when we are uncomfortable) is a tremendous mitzvah. I don't think they were quite ready to appreciate this fully but hopefully they will in time, b'ezras HaBorei Olam.