Thursday, August 18, 2005

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.


At August 18, 2005 at 1:56:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two thoughts:

Rav Kenig, manhig of the Breslever community in Tsfas, often has quoted the Lubavitcher Rebbe's hesber on this to his talmidim: that Klal Yisrael makes up one integrated whole; therefore to hate another Jew is to hate yourself.

However, he also adds that the perception and hasagah that underlies this mitzvah -- which, as Chavakuk Elisha points out, is a primary mitzvah -- is very deep. It is the very inner point of the Torah, the perception of the Achdus ha-Borei, boruch Hu. So of course we are far from sheleimus in fulfilling this mitzvah. Ahavas Yisroel is one of those fundamental mitzvos like Ahavas Hashem or Yiras Hashem or Teshuvah that are ongoing, increasing in proportion to one's yegi'a in avodas Hashem.

Last year before Rosh Hashanah, I visited the Baal Shem Tov's tziyun in Medzhibuzh, and met an old friend, Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Gottleib, who is another well known Breslever teacher. One of things I asked him about was the difficulty of being mekayem the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel, and he answered me on a very practical level. The Rebbe (Reb Nachman), he pointed out, does not speak about Ahavas Yisroel as much as he does about rachmonus / compassion. Perhaps this is not because of any fundamental difference in perception, but in the le-ma'aseh, the practical aspect. A person who is not "all the way up there" may indeed be limited in his degree of Ahavas Yisroel. But he can made some headway by working on rachmonus -- on trying to see the other person in a favorable light, looking for the other's "nekudos tovos," and trying to stand in the other person's shoes, instead of condemning him or negating him for what one considers his failings or chisronos.

This approach is not one of shleimus -- but it leads to shleimus, when it is bound up with everything else one does to come closer to the Eybishter. Thus, Ahavas Yisroel is not a mitzvah bifnei 'atzmo, but is the barometer of one's ongoing efforts in 'avodas Hashem bi-khlal.

At August 18, 2005 at 2:38:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 18, 2005 at 2:40:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 18, 2005 at 2:46:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow that was so nice! dovid's comment kind of reminded me of this thing, i forget where i heard it but it said that if u have a choice of a mitzva ben odom lmakom or ben odom lchaveiro, u should choose the latter bc if u do something ben odom lchaveiro, you are in a sense really also doing a mitzva bein odom lmakom b/c Hashem wants us to do mitzvos w/ each other. i hope i understood that right

At August 18, 2005 at 3:05:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo man whats wrong with you? why you removing my posts for? whats wrong with them huh?!

At August 18, 2005 at 3:08:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'...And act justly. Truly,God loves those who are just.'

'....And let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety...'

At August 18, 2005 at 3:26:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 18, 2005 at 3:39:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 18, 2005 at 5:27:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'the believers, in their love, mery and kindness to one another are like a body: if any part of it is ill, the whole body shares its sleeplessness and fever.'

At August 18, 2005 at 5:29:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

say: 'he is God, the one. God to whom the creatures turn for their needs. he begets not, nor was he begotten, and there is none like him.'

At August 18, 2005 at 6:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'the believers, in their love, mercy and kindness to one another are like a body: if any part of it is ill, the whole body shares its sleeplessness and fever.'

At August 21, 2005 at 10:42:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the chasidah bird, your chasidic friend was merely quoting a Rashi in Shemini (referencing a gemara in Chulin). It's a nice thought, but it's nonsense zoologically speaking. Just like when Rashi says that eagles carry their younguns on top of their wings to protect them from the arrows of hunters.

At July 2, 2008 at 10:39:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many websites and resources which explain the principle of "Ahavas Yisroel", yet we, as Jews often allow our disagreements and actions (esp. those over religious observance and family matters) to counter this principle. Why?

There is not one simple answer to this dilemma, but suffice it to say we need to recommit to affirming this principle and to studying the Torah and countless commentaries from the great R'.

Another website that succinctly drives this point home is:

Shalom Chaverim, Moishe in Frederick, MD


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