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Think Good of Your EnemiesAnd he prostrated himself on the ground seven times until he came near to his brother. (Bereishis 33:3)
Excerpt from Trust Me!
The Chovos Ha-Levavos: Sha'ar Ha-Bitachon, ch. 4 writes:
When you are confronted by people seeking to degrade you, put your trust in the Creator and endure their calumny. Do not return their deeds in kind. Rather, treat them benevolently and seek out their well-being. Remember that one's lot - whether good or ill - is determined by the Creator Above. Therefore, if your enemies succeed in harming you, it is the Almighty who is responsible and not them. It follows that you should judge them favorably and instead fault yourself and your own actions in sinning against God. Beseech and entreat Him for atonement of your transgressions. When you conduct yourself in this fashion, your antagonists will be transformed into your allies, as is written: "When a person's ways are favorable to Hashem, even his enemies make peace with him." (Mishlei 16:7)
* * * The Siddur HaGra in Keser Rosh, section 119 writes:
The Vilna Gaon teaches us a tried and true method for dealing with our adversaries: If we honestly bring ourselves to consider them perfect tzaddikim and judge them favorably, they will have an immediate change of heart and hold us in high regard.
* * * The following is excerpted from Ha-Ish Al Ha-Chomah, vol. 3, p. 346, also cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 1, p. 190.
Once, a gang of hoodlums broke into the home of R. Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt"l, the Rabbi of Jerusalem, and threatened to kill him. At first the Rav answered them calmly and coolly, seemingly oblivious to their ranting and raving . His tranquil bearing totally confounded the hoodlums, and they became even more violent. When their frenzy reached its peak, the Rav abruptly stood up and unbuttoned his shirt! With his chest revealed, he addressed the gang in a loud and determined voice: "I am prepared to sanctify Hashem's name! Shoot me! I promise you I will not move one inch!" R. Zonnenfeld then proceeded to give a short synopsis of his basic views and beliefs. In reaction to this unexpected move, the stunned hoodlums quickly left the house.
Later on, the Rav explained his strange behavior and the secret of his success, relating the following story to his students:
In Poland there was a shtetl called Schadik. A moser (an "informer," a Jew who reported on his fellow Jews and was a lackey of the authorities) lived in this shtetl, and he caused tremendous problems for the Jewish townsfolk. The people were terrified of provoking him, and fulfilled his every demand in the hope of keeping him pacified. In his chutzpah, he insisted that they seat him in the mizrach section (reserved for the most respected members of the community) of the town's main synagogue, and that on Shabbos they give him the most honorable aliyah of the day - the sixth one. Unfortunately, the town's elderly Rav was sick and frail, and was powerless to do anything about the situation.
When the old Rav passed away, a younger and very capable Torah scholar was appointed in his place. This new Rav was looking forward to his new position in a quiet small town, so that he could concentrate on his studies with little disturbance. He had a small beis midrash built next to his house, where he prayed and served his Creator with tremendous devotion, studying Torah day and night.
Eventually, the moser's wickedness and his arrogant behavior in shul came to the new Rav's attention. He immediately resolved to perform the mitzvah of "do not fear any man" and put a stop to the informer's impudence.
That Shabbos, the Rav appeared in the main synagogue. When the gabbai called up the moser for his aliyah, the Rav banged on his podium and cried out, "What business do you have in this holy place?! How can you say a blessing over the Torah with your filthy and disgusting mouth that betrays the money and lives of our people?! Your presence here is a mockery and an affront to God. I demand that you leave here and never return!"
The shocked moser was caught totally by surprise. He made as if to attack the new Rav, but was prevented from doing so by the congregants. Having no choice, the enraged man departed in shame. However, before taking his leave, he faced the Rav and ominously pronounced, "I'll teach you a lesson yet!"
Several months after this clash, the Rav was invited to serve as mohel at a bris in one of the neighboring towns. Some of his students accompanied him on the journey. As the group was making their way toward the shtetl, they discerned the moser galloping toward them on his horse. The students were paralyzed with fear, but the Rav remained calm and tranquil. The moser bore down upon them in seconds. He alighted from his horse and swiftly made his way towards the Rav. The students expected the worst, but to their astonishment, the moser stood before the Rav with a bent head and humbly asked, "Please, Rebbe, forgive me for my sinful and grievous behavior against you." As soon as he finished speaking, he mounted his horse and rode off.
As the astounded students accompanied their Rebbe to their destination, he explained the wondrous turn of events they had witnessed: "When I saw the moser galloping toward us, I mentally searched the Tanach for a strategy to save us. I suddenly thought of the verse in Mishlei (27:19): 'As water reflects one's face, so does one's heart reflect that of his fellow.' With this in mind, I immediately started to judge the man compassionately. I began to think: 'He has sunk to the lowest level of humanity and deserves our pity. How sad and dejected he must be! Who knows? Perhaps if he would have received the right education when he was a child, he wouldn't have descended to such depths.' I focused on thoughts such as these, trying to find some way to excuse his behavior until I truly felt sorry for him and uprooted from my heart all feelings of enmity toward him. When I did so, my compassion was reflected in his heart, just as Shlomo Ha-Melech said. He started to reconsider our previous encounter. 'Perhaps the Rav is right. He certainly acted solely out of pure intentions. He didn't mean to start a fight. ' As he thought about this, his heart started to soften and melt until he finally came to regret his actions and ask forgiveness."
Concluding the story, R. Zonnenfeld noted that Ya'akov Avinu employed this very same strategy in his encounter with Eisav (parashas Vayishlach). When Ya'akov's messengers returned from their meeting with Eisav, they told him: "We came to your brother, to Eisav" (Bereishis 32:7). Rashi explains that their intent in identifying him both as "your brother" and as "Eisav" was to tell Ya'akov that, "You might have said he is your brother, but he is still consumed with hatred and relates to you like the wicked Eisav."
"But," continued R. Zonnenfeld, "this was not the end of the story. While it is true that Eisav hates Ya'akov, Ya'akov also hates Eisav, as it says in Tehillim (139:21): 'Your enemies, Hashem, I shall hate.' Thus the story in Bereishis continues: 'And Ya'akov lifted up his eyes and saw and behold, Eisav was coming with four hundred men.' What did Ya'akov do when he saw the danger drawing near him? 'And he prostrated himself on the ground seven times until he came near to his brother.' (Bereishis 33:3). In other words, Ya'akov bowed down and humbled his thoughts. He searched for any good points he could think of about Eisav 'until he came near to his brother' - until he considered him as being his brother. The result was not long in coming, for immediately afterwards we read: 'Eisav ran toward him and hugged him.' By thinking about him in a good light, Ya'akov succeeded in arousing feelings of brotherly compassion in Eisav. Rashi, quoting a Midrash, states this explicitly: "R. Shimon bar Yochai said, 'It is a known axiom that Eisav hates Ya'akov. However, at that moment he was overwhelmed with compassion and he kissed him wholeheartedly.'"
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