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Then Ya’akov went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. And he looked, and saw a well in the field, and, lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for from that well they watered the flocks; and a great stone was upon the well's mouth. And there were all the flocks gathered; and they rolled the stone from the well's mouth, and watered the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well's mouth in his place. And Ya’akov said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “Of Charan are we.” And he said to them, “Know you Lavan the son of Nachor?” And they said, “We know him.” And he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well; and, behold, Rachel his daughter comes with the sheep.” And he said, “Behold, it is yet high day, nor is it time that the cattle should be gathered together; water the sheep, and go and feed them.” And they said, “We can not, until all the flocks are gathered together, and till they roll the stone from the well's mouth; then we will water the sheep” (Bereishis 29:1-8).

We can learn a very important lesson from this narrative. Ya’akov saw the shepherds standing around the well and not watering the sheep. He didn’t know that they had to wait until all of the shepherds came and rolled off the stone together. He thought, therefore, that they were just idling around, and he wanted to reprimand them for wasting their bosses’ or their own time. Why, then, did he begin with all the small talk, calling them his brothers and asking them where they live and if they know about Lavan? Why didn’t he just get straight to the point?

Reb Ya’akov Kaminetsky zt”l once discussed the principle that “All Jews are responsible for each other.” He asked whether this is one of the mitzvahs between Man and G-d or between Man and Man. He explained that most would be inclined to respond, “Between Man and G-d,” because they imagine that Hashem found a good way to insure that His Torah would be kept by appointing each Jew as His Personal policeman who will watch over his acquaintances. Therefore, when one reprimands another, he is fulfilling one of his obligations to G-d.

But this is a misconception, explained Reb Ya’akov. The source of this tenet is the mitzvah of “Love your fellow man as yourself.” Just like one who sees someone in physical or financial danger is obligated to warn him of the jeopardy, out of concern for his well-being; similarly, and even more so, one who sees a fellow Jew about to suffer a spiritual loss should try to prevent this, out of love for him. Therefore, our obligation to reprimand others is one of the mitzvahs between Man and Man.

Reb Ya’akov continued to explain that this query is not just academic; it has practical implications as well. One who is being reprimanded will sense in his heart whether the one reproofing him feels that he is “holier than thou” and is merely fulfilling his obligation towards G-d to scold the sinner; in which case he will probably be turned off and will not respond positively to his rebuke.

Whereas one who senses that the one speaking to him cares about him, will appreciate the other’s concern for his well-being and, even though he may not agree with his ideals, may be agreeable to consider them and perhaps even abide by them.

The story is told of a fellow who was returning from the Kosel Hama’aravi (the Western Wall), during the Intermediary Days of Sukkos, with a Lulov and Esrog in his hands. On the bus, he approached a non-religious passenger and asked him if he would like to perform the mitzvah of Shaking the Four Species. The fellow politely declined, explaining that he was obviously not religious and, as such, had no interest in performing this or any other mitzvah. Disappointed, the religious man took a seat near the back of the bus.

As more passengers alighted the vehicle, the religious man noticed another religious fellow, a Chabad chassid, approach the same non-religious fellow and make the same offer. He thought to himself that he too would be refused but, to his astonishment, he saw the non-religious man don a kippah (head covering), take the Lulov and Esrog, pronounce a berachah (blessing) over them and shake them enthusiastically!

Unable to contain himself, he approached the non-religious fellow and asked him why he had refused his offer yet had acquiesced to the other man’s. The secular man answered him, “When you spoke to me, I sensed that you were only trying to attain a place in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) by getting me to do a mitzvah. Being non-religious, I was neither interested in the mitzvah, nor in helping you, according to your worldview, attain bliss in Paradise.

“But when this fellow spoke to me,” he continued, “I sensed that he was trying to help me get reward in the World-to-Come which he believes in. Therefore, although I do not share his beliefs, I was so moved by his concern for me that I decided to comply, and I’m glad that I did.”

When I was a bachur, I, too, had such an experience. During the Intermediary Days of Sukkos, I drove home from shul, in my father’s car, and had trouble finding a parking spot in the residential section of Queens. Finally, someone moved his parked car backwards to allow me to squeeze in between him and the car in front of him. I then approached him and said, “You helped me. Now I want to return the favor.” With this, I invited him to shake the Four Species I was holding. The man got very excited and tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he cried while reciting the berachah he tried to remember from the days he was a child. He thanked me again and again and I knew that he appreciated my sincere concern for his spiritual well-being.

This is something we all have to remember, whether one is involved in kiruv (outreach) on a regular basis or whether he just happens to find himself in a situation of “being responsible for his fellow Jew.” His reprimand and reproof must come only from love for the other one, just as a parents’ rebuke and scolding comes from affection and concern.

This is what our Patriarch Ya’akov did. Before rebuking the shepherds, he built up a friendly relationship with them, calling them his brothers and asking about where they live and whom they know. Only then did he scold them for what he thought was a waste of time.

But it must be sincere. One cannot call his friend, “My brother,” just because he realizes that this is “the method which works.” The other one will quickly sense in his heart that it’s just baloney and it won’t succeed at all. He has to really be concerned for the other fellow and sincerely want to help him for his sake, not for his own.

So before one attempts to be mekarev anyone, he should first work on himself to arouse sincerity and ahavas Yisroel (love for Jews), and only then should he approach his brother and try to save him from spiritual loss. Then, with Hashem’s help, he will be successful in bringing Jews closer to our Father in Heaven.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel