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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: Unconditional love for every Jew


We must love our fellow Jews unconditionally. Aaron helped others change their ways by conversing with them as if they were his best friends. Rabbi Meir listened to his wife's advice to pray for the criminals to return from their evil ways. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Sonnenfeld and Rabbi Feinstein exhibited such love for their fellow Jews that it brought them to feel an eagerness to observe Torah commandments. "Words emanating from the heart of one enter the heart of the other." In order for chastisement to be effective it must come from a loving heart. It is the holy duty of every Torah observant Jew to conduct himself in such a way that his love for every fellow Jew shines through his actions.

Disciples of Aaron

The next thing enumerated in the Mishnah needed to acquire Torah is "to love people." (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Nasso: To save a marriage, June 4, 2009 how to develop love for someone by giving to that person). Earlier in Pirkei Avos (1:12) it says: "Be among the disciples of Aaron loving people and bringing them close to Torah." The Rambam, in his commentary on this Mishnah, quotes from Avos d'Rabbi Nosson (12:3) who describes how Aaron used to conduct himself. When Aaron found out about someone who behaved in an evil manner, he would make an effort to befriend the person. He would get into long conversations with him as if he was his best friend. The culprit would feel ashamed thinking to himself "if Aaron would just know what I am really like, he would not even look at me. I can see that he really thinks that I am an honourable person. How can I let him down." In this way, the person would often change his ways and even become a disciple of Aaron.

Love and bring close to Torah

This teaches us that when the Mishnah encourages us to love people and bring them close to Torah, it is not referring to two separate items. Rather, these are two parts of one package. When a Torah observant person shows his unconditional love and care for a fellow Jew, it will bring about that even someone who is far removed from Torah observance will become closer to Torah (see Tanya, chapter 32). Sometimes it will only cause a change in attitude, but in most instances the recipient will take steps to become more observant. This is how Torah scholars have conducted themselves throughout all generations. On the one hand, they will fight those who have abandoned the Torah way of life. But this in no way contradicts their love for their fellow Jews. On the contrary, their battle stems from the strong love beating in their hearts for every Jewish person.

Love G'd, hate evil

In Tehillim (97:9) King David says: "Those who love G'd hate evil." This should not be misunderstood neither by the Torah observant person nor by the transgressor to be interpreted as a personal animosity. Rather, it means hate the evil but not the evil doer (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeira: Hate the sin, not the sinner, October 25, 2002). The Talmud (Berachot 10a) relates that there was a group of criminals that lived in the neighbourhood of Rabbi Meir, one of the rabbis of the Mishnah. These criminals were bothering him so much that Rabbi Meir prayed for them to die. His wife, Beruria, asked him why he would pray for their death. "Is it because of what it says (Tehillim 104: 35) 'May the sinners cease from the earth?' This could be literally translated as "May sins cease from the earth", said Beruria. "Rather than praying for the sinners to cease from the earth, pray for them to return from their evil ways." Rabbi Meir listened to the advice of his wife, and soon the criminals did teshuva. They returned from their evil ways, and stopped disturbing Rabbi Meir.

Chofetz Chaim

It is well known that when the Chofetz Chaim met non-observant Jews, he would engage them in conversation and try to influence them to change their ways without a word of chastisement. He would exhibit such a love for his fellow Jews that it brought them to feel an eagerness to change their ways and observe the Torah commandments.

Heart to heart

This is a classic example of the famous saying: "words emanating from the heart of one enter the heart of the other." When a person addresses another with genuine feelings of love, he will influence the listener in a very real way. On the other hand, if someone engages another person in an intellectual dispute it will enter the mind of the other person but will not affect him. As Rabbi Israel Salanter used to say, "What a person knows intellectually has no more influence on his conduct than if it was another person who had the knowledge." Only when a person internalizes the intellectual knowledge and takes it to heart will it have a real affect on the person's conduct and way of life. This is what the Torah says (Devarim 4:39): "And you shall know today, and you shall take it to your heart that HASHEM is G'd in the Heaven above and upon earth below. There is no other." Even the knowledge of G'd's existence is not sufficient to influence someone if he does not take it to heart and develops an emotional commitment to act upon his knowledge.

Need to reprove

But sometimes there is a need to chastise and give reprove. This applies especially in education of children. Says King Solomon (Mishlei 27:5): "Open chastisement is good from hidden love." The Metzudas David explains that in this verse King Solomon teaches us that in order for chastisement to be effective it must come from a loving heart. If one manages to establish a good and loving relationship with a child, then even in times when one has to reprove the child, the child will accept and even appreciate the reproof. For the child will understand that the reproof is borne out of a genuine love and concern. This applies both at home and in school where educators must find a way to show their charges their love and care at all times. If one gives reproof in anger or frustration, children may listen out of fear for the consequences. But it will not have a lasting effect on them, and the moment they see the opportunity they will do what they want rather than following the reproof. The same applies to Rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They will have a much better chance to influence their congregants and followers if they manage to convey a general message of love and care.

Rabbi Sonnenfeld

At the time of the British mandate in Palestine, as it was called then, one of the great rabbinic leaders of the orthodox community was the rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld. He stood up as a lion to protect the old establishment of Jerusalem and did not tolerate any changes that the secular immigrants wanted to introduce. There was an ongoing battle between the two camps. One rainy winter day there was a knock on the elderly rabbi's door. The visitor had grown up in Jerusalem but had abandoned his old lifestyle and joined the secular Zionist camp. He apologized for disturbing the rabbi but explained that one of the leaders of his organization was very ill and had been hospitalized for a month in a hospital run by English missionaries. The doctors had given up hope on the patient, and the visitor asked if the rabbi would write a note to Doctor Wallach who was the head of the Orthodox hospital Shaarei Zedek in Jerusalem. As soon as the rabbi heard the request he got up to put on his coat. The visitor said that all he wanted was a note of recommendation, and not to bother the rabbi to go out, especially in the heavy rain. Rabbi Sonnenfeld said to him, "If I write a note, I am not convinced that they will accept the patient. But if I go there myself, I am sure that I will be able to convince Dr. Wallach to accept him." The rabbi went and got the patient into the hospital, and thereby saved his life. When it came to dealing with a person on an individual level, Rabbi Sonnenfeld did not look at the lifestyle or observance of the person. He did whatever he could to help a fellow Jew in need.

Rabbi Feinstein

The great halachic authority, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who was one of the leaders of post-War American Jewry, conducted himself in the same manner. He was very uncompromising when it came to dealing with streams of Judaism who did not adhere to halacha. But he treated every Jew with genuine love. Once on Erev Yom Kippur he was taken in a wheelchair down an elevator on his way to the yeshiva that he headed. An obvious secular Jew also entered the elevator and the two exchanged cordial greetings. Rabbi Feinstein wished the gentleman that he should have a good year and blessed him with health, success, and nachas from his children, as well as that he should merit to see the coming of Mashiach. The gentleman was visibly touched by the sage's warm blessings, and expressed his surprise to one of the family members who escorted the rabbi. "It is obvious that I am a secular Jew", he said. "Nevertheless, I am 'somebody' in the eyes of the rabbi." When the family member later related to Rabbi Feinstein how the person had reacted, he said very simply, "But he is a Jew". That said it all.

Love every Jew

We live in a time when the secular media and politicians try to portray the observant community as looking down upon and despising their secular fellow Jews. Nothing could be further removed from the Torah way of life. It is the holy duty of every Torah observant Jew to conduct himself in such a way that his love for every fellow Jew shines through his actions. This applies especially nowadays where most non-observant Jews were brought up in an environment where they did not have a chance to learn what Torah observance is all about.

Reach out and bring close to Torah

Obviously, the obligation to show love for others does not apply only to non-observant Jews. The Torah obligates us even more in regards to observant Jews (see Sefer HaChinuch #243 and the commentary of Minchas Chinuch). The Talmud (Taanis 7a) quotes Rabbi Chanina, who used to say: "I learned a lot from my rabbis, but I learned even more from my colleagues. And from my students I learned more than from anyone else." This refers to the three levels of Torah study. One starts as a student of a mentor. Then one continues to learn Torah with study partners. And the one who merits will eventually be able to become a teacher with his own students. At all three stages it is important that a person has a love for his fellow Jew, for only then will he be able to succeed in any of these situations. But the love for a fellow Jew goes way beyond mentors, study partners and students. It obligates us to reach out to every Jew and bring them close to Torah.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel