Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Shais Taub - Ahavas Yisroel

A Simple Jew asks:

Are there any occasions when Ahavas Yisroel actually requires us to stay away from fellow Jew who we may have difficulty getting along with?

Rabbi Shais Taub answers:

Oh, Simple Jew, if only it were that easy. I sympathize with your question, I really do. I have also met some people that it's easier for me to "love" from afar. But, much to the dismay of my animal soul, there are no exemptions from mitzvos based on difficulty. In fact, the Baal Shem Tov taught that if one finds that there is a mitzvah that is unusually difficult for him (that is to say, a mitzvah which he personally finds more challenging than most people do) then he should know that this particular mitzvah is crucial for his soul's mission and, as such, the Other Side has focused on thwarting him from succeeding in that one area.

Following that logic, we should say that the harder I find it to love a particular person, then the more important it is for my soul's mission to show love to that very person.

In other words, there is something redeemable about every Jew. All of our brothers and sisters possess at least some quality that is appealing and likable. The fact that my attention is drawn to all of this person's other traits is a sign that there is something amiss. Something is getting in the way of my love for this Jew.

Think about it like this. There are people that I enjoy spending time with, but even the people that I like still have shortcomings. Yet those shortcomings don't bother me so much, at least not enough to make me stay away from them. Now, these same people are not liked by everyone. Someone somewhere does not want to be as close to that person as I do. We're talking about one person, yet two people may have very different reactions to that same person. The difference
then is not objective but subjective. And what is this subjective difference? The same difference that makes me like mint chocolate chip ice cream and you hate it. My peculiar tastes and predilections -- whether it be for people or for flavors of ice cream -- comes straight from my base, animal instincts, in layman's terms, the ego. If not, then I would love all of my fellows equally. If not, then I would be satisfied by all ice cream equally.

How many of us would ever think to avoid attending a social function because we weren't fond of the menu being served? Any honest person can see that staying home from a party because he wanted Chinese and the host was serving Italian is the epitome of selfishness. And yet, at the same time, we might justify not being somewhere where we know that we would be surrounded by people whose company we don't enjoy.

Our preferences for the social company of one person over another do not stem from some transcendent, altruistic desire but quite the opposite, from the selfish animal drives which seek easy pleasure, comfort and gratification.

If I don't like you, at least I should admit it to myself. And I should own the problem. My animal soul doesn't want to play with your animal soul. But it's self-deceptive to tell myself that since we don't get along, then I am going to stay away from you in the name of "Love your fellow as yourself." That's a convenient excuse derived from twisting a pretty straightforward commandment.

Now, it should be noted that if the shoe is on the other foot and it is someone else who doesn't like you, then you may show them love by staying away from them. If your presence will cause someone pain, then show your fellow consideration by making yourself absent. But it doesn't work the other way around. If I can only fulfill "love your fellow as yourself" with people that I like and not with the people that I don't like, then I am not really even fulfilling "love your
fellow as yourself" with the people that I like either. I'm not loving my fellow. I'm loving myself -- by choosing to only surround myself with people who somehow gratify my ego.

Then comes the religious argument. "I don't want to associate with that person because they do bad things." Self-righteousness rears its head to give me a free pass from loving someone because I have discovered their moral failings. There is a teaching in Pirkei Avos: Nittai Of Arbel Said: "Keep away from a bad neighbor and do not be friends with a bad person...." The Rebbe explains that these are two very different things. A bad neighbor isn't necessarily a bad person.
He may be a very good person. But for you, he is a "bad neighbor" because somehow, his influence on you is spiritually damaging. Perhaps his method of serving G-d, however valid it may be for him, is inconsistent with yours and causes you confusion or distraction. In this case, we are told "keep away." But the reason we are supposed to keep away is not in the name of somehow being able to better perform the mitzvah of ahavas Yisroel (as was your original question.) We are supposed to keep away because this person's spiritual influence on us is disruptive. On the other hand, regarding the person who is actually called "a bad person," we are not told to keep away from him. We are only told not to be "friends" with him. That is, we should not accept his standards as our own. But that doesn't mean we have to stay away. To the contrary, he is worthy of even greater attention.

The point is that NEITHER of these two cases talk about avoiding a person just because I know it will be hard for me to actually be nice to them.

The Baal Shem Tov said that ahavas Yisroel is loving a Jew that you've never even met. Chasidim add to that, "But that doesn't mean only loving the Jews that you haven't met."


At March 11, 2009 at 2:36:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may be different if there is a chance of committing an actual sin through an association with such a person: " R. Yochanan said:Fortunate is he who has never seen his father and mother - Rashi: Because it is impossible to properly honor them and one is punished for his failures (Kiddushin 31a).

At March 11, 2009 at 11:24:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the point here is just about tolerance and trying to overcome what we don't like about people, try to see their good and move on. Just this can be a huge obstacle to overcome. To not speak badly about them or judge them just love and accept them as they are.

At March 12, 2009 at 12:09:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It could be when I see something that I feel uncomfortable about in my fellow Jew, that is an opportunity for me to discover what it is that "makes me", or rather I choose to be uncomfortable.
As we know, what we see in another is only a reflection of our place. And I can only change myself and present opportunity to others for growth.
If I choose to isolate myself to be misbonen on my choice by wrote to be uncomfortable in my fellows presence, in my own presence, then it affords me an opportunity to discover in a directed, non habitual way of engaging my point of growth (being uncomfortable) and then returning to my fellow Jew with this knowledge and seeing him in a new light.


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