Love Your Neighbor – Finding the Good
Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
You should always make every effort to search out whatever merit and goodness you can find within the Jewish people. Judge everyone favorably, even those who oppose you and treat you disrespectfully. If you do this, you will never be troubled by opposition and arguments. When you seek out the merit of your fellow Jew, you make a precious crown for Hashem studded with beautiful gems. — Lekutey Eitzos, Controversy and Strife # 2
In this weeks Torah portion, we are commanded “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The simple understanding of this verse is that we must literally love our fellow Jew as much as we love ourselves.
However, the Ramban writes that it would be nearly impossible to love someone else to the exact same degree and rather, the verse is instructing us to want the best for others just as we want the best for ourselves. As Rabbi Moshe Korminick explains, “Just as we only wish blessings and success for ourselves in every area of life without limitation, so too we should want this for those around us.”
This also means that we must afford everyone the benefit of the doubt. As the Mishna is Perkei Avos states, “Judge every person favorably.” Nobody is perfect. We each have our own shortcomings. But the Torah commands us to look for the good that we also abundantly possess, and to see the best in everyone.
Throughout life, we encounter many different personalities, as the Talmud in Berachos states regarding the Jewish Nation, “Whose minds are unlike each other and whose faces are unlike each other.” The Rebbe of Kotzk explained, “Just as you can tolerate that people look different than you, so you should tolerate that they think differently than you.”
Rebbe Nachman teaches that true peace is attained when we accept each other despite our differences. He writes, “The real meaning of peace is to fit together two opposites. So you should not be disturbed when you come across someone whose thinking is the exact opposite of yours. Don’t assume that you will never be able to live amicably with him… Perfect peace is achieved through the effort to make peace between two opposites, just as Hashem makes peace in His heights between fire and water, which are two opposites.”
This is not always an easy task, to say the least. But the Mesillas Yesharim assures us, the more we work on ourselves to love our fellow Jew, the more Hashem’s love for us grows.
Yesterday, we received the tragic word of the passing of Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt’l. He understood the importance of this mitzvah and followed it scrupulously. The verse of loving one’s neighbor concludes with the words, “I am Hashem.” Rabbi Wallerstein zt’l explained that when we love a fellow human, who was created “in the image of Hashem”, we can grasp to some degree what it means to ‘love’ Hashem.
Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must actively search for the good in each person. As he writes, “Know that it is necessary to judge every person favorably [literally, on the scale of merit]. Even if you encounter a complete sinner, you must search until you find some element of good in him… He may be evil, but even so, is it really possible that not even a small remnant of good still exists in him? Could it be that he never once carried out some mitzvah, or did anything good throughout his entire life?”
Of course, the prerequisite to loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, is actually loving ourselves. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, “There are two kinds of peace. There is the ‘peace in one’s bones’ – in oneself. This is the first priority, because at times a person has no peace within himself, as it written, ‘There is no peace in my bones because of my sin’ (Psalms 38:4)…”
Therefore, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we must also search for the good in ourselves. He writes, “You must find this good point within yourself, as well. It is a known principle that one must be very sure to be happy always and to avoid depression. It may be that when you start to examine yourself, you will think you have nothing good in you at all. You may see that you are full of sin, and the evil inclination wants to push you into depression and sadness as a result. Even so, you must not allow yourself to fall – not on any account. What you should do is search until you find that little bit of good within yourself… Next, you should search further until you have found another good point – despite any deficiencies it may have – and continue on and on, until you can collect all of the good points and make them into a song. You will then be able to pray and sing and give thanks to Hashem.”
Similarly, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt’l writes, “When I look at the Kotel wall, it’s a magical feeling I cannot explain or experience anywhere else in the world. Even when I take my mind back to the most emotional moments in my life, nothing has the same hope and rejuvenation as the Kotel wall. Yet when you take a closer look at the wall, it’s full of cracks, plants growing in all directions, birds chirping all around. The most perfect place carries what seems like numerous imperfect qualities. In fact, the Kotel was the most ‘unimportant’ wall of the whole Beis Hamikdash. And yet Hashem saved only what seemed to be unimportant, the imperfection. All those qualities is Hashem showing us that His love is for the one who is not perfect. Hashem has a special place in His heart for the person who struggles and therefore, His wall that He saved is exactly what it’s supposed to looks like! So remember, you may feel like you’re full of imperfections, but to Hashem you are the Kotel – the light in the darkness, the one thing worth saving under all circumstances. Your imperfection is the beauty. Your wounds and scars are the beauty. Your beauty is a reflection of all you have become.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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