Friday, June 08, 2007

Conversation With Chabakuk Elisha - Ahavas Yisroel (Part II)

(Picture by John MacLean)

A Simple Jew asks:

People are truly icebergs, and learning how do deal with different personalities can be extremely complicated at times. When the tactic of "killing a person with kindness" does not seem to be effective, we may try the opposite approach and ignore the person or give them the silent treatment. Sometimes, however, this too does not work and herein lies our dilemma.

If we are overly nice to the person, inside we feel that we are being phony and hypocritical since our words do not truly represent our inner thoughts. Yet, when we take the opposite approach we feel that we are being to harsh and know that this is not the proper way for us to behave. It pains us a hundred-fold if the person we are dealing with is a fellow Jew because it points out how deficient our Ahavas Yisroel is.

Commenting on our first conversation on Ahavas Yisroel back in August 2005, Rabbi Dovid Sears wrote:

"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."

Let's now take this concept of having rachmonus on a fellow Jew and try to apply it the particular circumstance that I described above; to the person that whom we have tried both hot and cold tactics on. We refrain from speaking any disparaging words about them, continually attempt to seek out this person's good points, and warm back up to them whenever we see them.

If there are no apparent signs that we have made any headway in our relationship with this person what are we still obligated to do fulfill the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel? Is it possible to ever reach a point where we can say, "I have done my part, the problem is truly with the other person."?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Yes. Ahavas Yisroel, like many mitzvos that sound simple, is extremely hard when we get down to it. It sounds quite appealing, especially because we generally are thinking of ourselves as the one being "loved," but in reality there is true confusion when we try to apply it to the complications and day-to-day realities of life. An acquaintance once told me that he learned how to be mekayim Ahavas Yisroel by reading Dale Carnegie's "How To Win Friends and Influence People". However, although there are great ideas in the book (Rav Dessler even adapted the system), it seems to me that when our relating to others is motivated by other forces (our own interests) it's really not so much Ahavas Yisroel as it is Ahavas atzmo.

I find that Ahavas Yisroel needs to be a frame of mind, meaning that Ahavas Yisroel equals: our humility before our fellow Jew, our predilection to judge him/her favorably, our sympathy towards him/her, our readiness to assist him/her when possible, and our understanding that we are equals.

If we aren't completely sincere in this attempt, what news is that? How many mitzos ARE we 100% sincere about? Like all commandments, we strive to improve - we'll have good days and bad, we'll have successes and failures, we'll have moments when we soar the Heavens and moments when we are floundering in the abyss. Like all things, we have our part to do - nowhere is it written that things will be reciprocated or easy - but we must be introspective and honest with ourselves. On the other hand, we are taught that "Kamayim HaPanim al Panim, Kach Lev HaAdam" (just like water reflects a face, so too does the heart of mankind), therefore if we really ARE doing our part properly, we should be making some headway.

A Simple Jew replies:

So, bottom-line you are saying that when dealing with a "difficult" fellow Jew we have not fulfilled our obligation of Ahavas Yisroel until we have made headway and established or re-established a warm relationship with this person; that it is truly our problem, correct?

Chabakuk Elisha responds:

No, no - not necessarily at all. I believe that there are many cases where two people "aren't a shidduch". In my opinion, a warm-relationship is not always possible. But, we should be able to have an amicable and respectful relationship with most people, which is not to say that there aren't difficult people - in those cases we can only do our honest best, and hopefully some (limited) headway should be possible. The fact will always remain that we can only control ourselves; so whenever we deal with others, the very real possibly that they aren't interested in playing nice will exist.