Love, part I

Rav SR Hirsch relates the word ahavah (love) /ahb/ to the roots /hbh/ meaning “offer” and /hbb/, “bring forth”. To love is to give.In his Kunterus haChesed, Rav Dessler writes a truth fundamental to Mussar. We think of giving as an expression of love, but moreso giving is the cause of love. There’s a famous story of Rav Yisrael Salanter that makes this point.

One time Rav Yisrael was riding by train from Kovno to Vilna. He was sitting in a smoking car, smoking a cigar. (This was the 19th century, smoking wasn’t known to be a dangerous vice.) A young fellow boarded and sat near him. The man complained, yelling at him about the smell of the cigar and the thickness of the smoke. Bystanders tried to quiet him, pointing out that if he didn’t want the smoke, the man could move to a non-smoking car. Rav Yisrael Salanter put out the cigar, and opened the window to clear the air. A minute later, the man slammed the window closed, screaming at Rav Yisrael for letting the cold air in. Rav Yisrael apologized to the young man, and turned his attention to a seifer.

When they reached Vilna, crowds of people had come to the train to greet the elderly sage, the great Rav Yisrael Salanter. The man was mortified when he realized who it was he had offended through the entire train ride. He went to the home where Rav Yisrael was staying to beg forgivenes. Rav Yisrael was gracious in granting it. A trip, after all, can make you edgy. He asked the man why he came to Vilna. It turns out he was looking for a letter from a rav to help him get started as a shocheit. Rav Yisrael made a connection for the man, contacting his son-in-law, Rav Elya Lazer, asking him to give the man the test.

He failed it, badly. For the next several weeks, Rav Yisrael taught him the laws himself, and arranged teachers and tutors for the more hands-on skills of shechitah. After retaking the test, he earned Rav Elya Lazer’s letter of approbation. Then, Rav Yisrael Salanter continued to help, contacting communities until he could find the man a job.

The shocheit was ready to leave Vilna. He came to Rav Yisrael with a question. He could understand how Rav Yisrael, the founder of a movement that teaches a focus on middos, was able to forive him. But why did you then commit your next few weeks to helping me so much?

Rav Yisrael explained. It’s easy to say “I’m sorry.” However, how do you know that deep down you really forgive the person, that you’re not bearing a deep-seated grudge? Deep down in his heart, Rav Yisrael was not so sure. Therefore he had to help the aspiring When you help another person, you develop a love for them.

This idea is akin to one Rav Shimon Shkop makes in the introduction to Shaarei Yosher. The Torah says, “You shall love your friend as yourself.” Notice the Torah’s ideal is not the impossible goal of destroying one’s love of self. This is why Hillel states in the negative, “That which you hate, do not do to others.”

It is easy to provide for one physical needs — it’s driven by strong personal desire. Slightly loftier than that is caring for our emotional or even spiritual beings. We also freely give to our children, who we intuitively see as extensions of our selves. Similarly, we give to our immediate family. Someone truly generous extends their sense of “self” to include their entire community, the Jewish People, or even the world.

This is the meaning Rav Shim’on gives Hilel’s enigmatic mishnah: If I am not for me, who is for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? If I am not for my greater self, my entire “me and mine” which in the ideal includes all of humanity, who will be? And when I am for atzmi, my inner core self (etzem is both “core” and “bone”) with no bridges beyond myself, what am I?

According to Rav Shimon, the key to giving is not negating the self, but the exact reverse — extending the notion of self to realize our unity with others. Love, a sense of unity, is intimately tied to giving. By giving we create a love for others because giving is an expression of our realization of that unity for others.

In part II, I hope to discuss the avos, Avraham, Yitzchaq and Yaaqov, as archetypes of distinctly different expressions of love.

Love, part II

If we look at the portrayal of the avos, both in their relationships with Hashem and with their families, I believe you find three distinct models for loving relationships.

Avraham is noted by Chazal for being a baal chessed, for being generous, giving. As we saw in part I, this is in imitation of G-d. The purpose of creation (to the extent that we can know the mind of G-d) is to provide Hashem a recipient to whom to give. I would like to suggest that for Avraham, love was not primarily expressed by giving to the beloved, but by giving of oneself to further the beloved’s goals. This is also how Chazal portray the relationship between Avraham and Sarah. “‘And the soul[s] which they made in Charan’ — he brought the men close [to G-d], she brought the women.” A couple sharing a common dream. This kind of love is described in words Antoine Saint-Expaury places in the mouth of “The Little Prince”, “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

However, the word ahavah only appears once in the naarative of Avraham’s life. “Take your son, your only one, asher ahavta, whom you love, Yitzchaq” to the aqeidah. The word itself first appears in a relationship to Yitzchaq. And in fact, when we get to Yitzchaq the word appears often. When he takes Rivqah into his home, “… and he took Rivkah, and she was for him a wife, vaye’ehaveha, and he loved her…” In their relationship to their sons, “Vaye’ehav Yitzchaq, and Yitchaq loved Eisav, for he hunted with his mouth, veRivqa oheves, and Rivqah loves Yaaqov.” (BTW, note the change in tense: Yitzchaq loved Eisav, but Rivqah loves Yaaqov.) At giving the berakhah, Yitzchaq asks Eisav to bring him sweets “ka’asher ahavti, the way I love”, and Rivqah tells Yaaqov that she will make Yitzchaq those sweets “ka’asher aheiv, the way he loves.”

Yitzchaq’s love was more straightforward. It was giving to the beloved. That’s why it warrants explicit use of the term ahavah rather than letting it remain implied. Avimelekh knew that Yitzchaq and Rivqah were spouses when he saw him “metzacheiq es Rivqah ishto”, making her laugh or perhaps otherwise acting intimately. (Not sexually, as this was in public.) The word-playused in the Torah, “Yitzchaq” and the more rare usage of “metzacheiq”, gives us a sense that this behavior is inherent to what it is to be a Yitzchaq.

When Rivqah arrived at Avraham’s home, Yitzchaq was returning from prayer. He went “lasu’ach basadeh, to talk in the field”. The word “lasu’ach” is not the usual one for prayer. The mishnah uses the root to caution us “Al tarbeh sichah im ha’ishah, don’t overly engage in sichah with women.” Sichah has a connotation of flirting; Yitzchaq’s prayer was one of flirting with G-d.

When we get to Yaaqov, we find a synthesis of the two. Yaaqov’s avodas Yashem is identified with “titen emes leYaaqov, give truth to Yaaqov”, “veYaaqov ish tam yosheiv ohalim, and Yaaqov was a pure/whole man, who dwelled in tents” and chazal add: in tents of study. Yaaqov worshipped G-d by studying what was known so far of His Torah, by trying to understand him. This love through understanding the other is also what we find at the end of his life, when Yaaqov blesses each son according to that son’s personal strengths and weaknesses. This focus on the essence of the individual might be how Yaaqov succeeded keeping all of his sons within the proto-Jewish fold, while Avraham and Yitzchaq only were able to succeed with one of their sons.

Yaaqov’s love is unconditional. It’s getting beyond the beloved’s behavior to the essence of the beloved underneath. Loving someone just for who they are. This directly bores through the barrier between “me” and “him” (again, see part I), even that of the barrier the beloved himself put up. You therefore naturally give to the other the way you provide for yourself. And, by knowing what the person truly stands for and aspires to, perhaps better than the beloved does himself, you share in their dreams and work together toward them.


(Updated 12-Oct-2007: Added kaf zechus.)

In today’s world, with the Orthodox community as tiny as it is, dealing with high costs of education and our own needs, our chessed tends to be focused on the helping others within our own communities.

Another factor promoting our insularity is our need to self-define in order to survive. We are more likely to focus on those mitzvos that are uniquely preserved by Orthodox Judaism. Mitzvos championed by non-Orthodox Jews tend to get shorter shrift. This impacts fundamental things like the amount of time spent teaching boys Tanakh or diqduq (Hebrew grammar).

Such need for survival, both to focus on building internally and on defining ourself, is not to be belittled. One can easily argue that any topic it pulls attention from is not any worse off if the community were to ch”v disintegrate and there were no one’s attention to veer. In fact, this seems to be the position of the Mishnah Berurah (694:3, laws of the Purim obligation of matanos la’evyonim, gifts to the poor). He writes that if someone gives a perutah (a minimal coin) to a gentile for reasons other than darkhei shalom, it is theft from the poor (presumably meaning the Jewish poor). One could argue the same reasoning is true of time and energy, not only money. The question is defining “darkhei shalom“, and asking if anyone would give charity to non-Jews for other reasons.

But I would argue that the same thing happened to our calling to help others beyond the eiruv. That in an age where “Tikkun Olam” has been hijacked to refer to left-wing political activism, we are artificially playing down the centrality of extending a hand to those not in our little community — whether it’s the local soup kitchen or protesting the killing in Darfur.

1- As Dr. David Luchens quoted in his eulogy for Rav Aharon Soloveichik:

“It is not just that Rav Aharon is the only Rosh Yeshiva that speaks about Biafra”, his lifelong friend Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, once explained. “It’s that he is the only Rosh Yeshiva who ever heard of Biafra.”

So I decided to collect some thoughts about the centrality of a universalist outlook by launching an Avodah discussion.
On Avodah, and before that in the Jewish Press, R. Harry Maryles, a student of Rav Aharon’s, explains his rebbe’s position:

Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik, zt”l, wrote in his book Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, the concept of kavod habriyos, the dignity of Man, is a halachic imperative that constitutes the basis of human rights, and the basis of all civilized jurisprudence.

As the Rambam says in Hilchos Sanhedrin (24:8-10), these rights apply even to pagans. “Tzedek tzedek tirdof.” Why should the Torah repeat the word tzedek? Rabbenu Bachaye interprets it to mean that the same standard of righteousness should be applied toward all non-Jews.

As an example of this attitude, Rabbi Soloveichik related the following story from the Talmud Yerushalmi (Bava Metzia):

Shimon Ben Shetach worked in the flax business. His students advised him to give up that business and buy a donkey which would provide a better income. Shimon Ben Shetach agreed. So his students went to a pagan Arab and bought a donkey for him. After the purchase they discovered a large diamond tied to it. They brought the animal and the jewel to their rebbe who thereupon asked them, “Did the Arab know that there was a diamond tied to the donkey?” They answered, “No.” Shimon Ben Shetach told his students to immediately go back and return the diamond. But the students knew the laws regarding returning lost objects to idolaters. They knew that they were not required by halacha to do so. Why, they asked their rebbe, did he ask them to return it? He answered, Do you think that I am a barbarian? I am more interested in hearing the exclamation, “Blessed be the God of the Jews” from pagans than I am in earning a living.

2- Jason Moser offered two contemporary citations. The first is Orthodox Forum. Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law. Northvale, N.J: Jason Aronson, 1997. In particular, chapter 2, “Tikkun Olam: Jewish obligations to non-Jewish society” by Rabbi J. David Bleich.

Second is Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s work “To Heal a Fractured World”, chapter 9 – Responsibility for Society, pp. 113-129. Quoting Rabbi Sachs:

There are certain questions that are note asked within a particular culture, simply because the circumstances that give rise to it never occurred. Throughout history, Jews took it as axiomatic that they were responsible for one another. The question they did not ask was: to what extent are we responsible for the wider society and the world?…
The question was not asked because it never arose. For eighteen centuries of Diaspora history, Jews had no civil rights. They had no vote. Until the nineteenth century, they were not admitted to universities, the professions, parliaments, local government or offices of state. Even after emancipation, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they entered the public domain as citizens rather than as Jews. Public culture was either Christian or secular, and there was no point of entry for, or interest in, a Jewish voice.
[Emphasis in the original.]

3- Rabbi Sacks provides this quote from Rav Kook (also in Jason Moser’s email to Avodah):

“The love for people must be alive in the heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement … One cannot reach the exalted position of being able to recite the verse from the morning prayer, ‘Praise the Lord, invoke His name, declare His works among the nations’ (1 Chron. 16:8), without experiencing the deep, inner love stirring one to a solicitousness for all nations, to improve their material state and to promote their happiness.”

‘The Moral Principles’ (Middot ha-Rayah). English version in “The Lights of Penitence, Lights of Holiness, The Moral Principles, Essays, Letters and Poems”, translated Ben Zion Bokser, London 1979 p.136

4- Moshe Yehudah Gluck offered this quote from the Ramchal’s introduction to Mesillas Yesharim:

The general rule for this (Halichah B’drachav – MYG) is that a person should act in all his ways based on uprightness and forethought (Hayosher V’hamussar – MYG). Chazal generalized it as, “Anything which is harmonious both to its performer and to the observer.” This means that one goes to the n-th degree of doing good, which is that its result is the strengthening of Torah and repairing relationships between nations.

5- Doron Beckerman quoted Rabbeinu Yonah on the obligation to pray for the well-being of the government:

Rabbi Chaninah Segan HaKohanim says, pray for the welfare of the monarchy, for were it not for trepidation of it, a man would swallow his fellow alive.

This statement is meant to express the idea that a person should daven for peace in the entire world and to feel pain when others suffer; and this is the way of the Tzaddikim, as David a”h, said (Tehillim 35:13) “And I, when they take ill, my clothes are sackcloth, I afflict my soul with fasting”.

For a person should not make his supplications and requests solely for his own needs, rather he should daven for all human beings that they be in a peaceful environment, and when there is peace of the monarchy, there is peace in the world.

– Rabbeinu Yonah, commentary on Avos 2:3

On to my own Avodah contribution…

6- There are a number of things we are told to do for non-Jews “mipenei darkhei shalom — because of the ways of peace”. Usually this is assumed to mean we do them in order to preserve peace for our neighbors. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein explains otherwise. As we just saw in the Ramchal, we are enjoined understand this concept of “vehalakhta biderakhav — going in His ways.”

Returning to the Mishnah Berurah, it turns out he is saying that giving charity to non-Jews for reasons other than trying to imitate the Creator is not only a poor form of charity, but also theft from Jewish causes. His statement is more like “it would be theft were it not darkhei shalom” than a statement that the norm is theft. This eliminates his ruling as a consideration for whether the Torah promotes universalism. The universalist viewpoint is recommending the charity specifically as a form of imitatio Dei.

7- Along similar lines, in his introduction to Shaarei Yosher, Rav Shimon Shkop writes about the enigmatic lines of Hillel: Im ein ani li, mi li? Ukeshe’ani le’atzmi, mah ani? — If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I?

Rav Shimon explains that the key to chessed is not self-lessness, but an extension of the notion of self. It is easy to do things for one’s one bodily comfort. Somewhat holier, to take care of one’s higher needs. One’s family is “me and mine”, so helping them is also quite easy. One step more outward would be to help one’s friends. People with a wider definition of “li“, for me and mine, would be committed to one’s neighbors and community. And so on, wider and wider. The greatest ba’al chessed is one with the broadest notion of self, including as many people as possible.

This is what Rav Shimon defines as truly being in the image of G-d, of “be[ing] holy just as I Am Holy.” It is akin to Rav Aharon’s idea. To imitate G-d is to shower chessed universally.

8- Universality is a primary feature of Rav Hirsch’s Torah im Derekh Eretz, Torah combined with a cultured nobility. Derekh eretz isn’t merely to be taken in, it is also to contribute back to the greater culture. “Yaft Elokim leYefes, veyishkon be’ohalei Sheim — Hashem gave beauty to Yefes, and dwells in the tents of Sheim.” (Breishis 9:27) Sheim’s task is to be the voice of G-d in the greater culture. The moral voice in the mosaic of civilization. This is a theme Rav SR Hirsch develops further looking at the messianic prophecies of our becoming “a light for the nations” and “For from Tziyon the Torah will come forth…”

By being silent on issues like Darfur, we are missing our Semitic calling.

9- R’ Yitzchak Blau on Ki miTzion Teitzei Torah (starting at 25:25) ( 25:25) points out that the Tif’eres Yisrael explains three mishnayos in Avos in universal terms.

a- Hillel asks us to try to be mitalmidav shel Aharon (one who is from among the students of Aaron), which in part means being someone who is “oheiv es haberi’os — literally: loves the creatures” (Avos 1:12). Beri’os is a pretty universal term for humanity, not confusable for a limitation to other Jews.

b- Lest you think this attitude is specific to Hillel, the Tif’eres Yisrael also learns this lesson from Shammai’s words: “havei meqabeil es kol ha’adam beseiver panim yafos — receive all people with a pleasant expression on one’s face” (Avos 1:15).

Is this “ha’adam” universal? The Tif’eres Yisrael cites a Tosafos to show that while “adam” sometimes means “everyone in our conversation”, “ha’adam” is always about all of humanity. R’ Blau likens it to an announcement in shul “Everyone can vote for shul president”. Obviously “everyone” is limited by context. This is how Tosafos explain the gemara, “‘adam ki yamus ba’ohel’ – atem keruyim adam.

However, Tosafos point out, this is not true of “ha’adam“. And therefore the TY concludes that this mishnah obligates you to show that warmth to Jew and non-Jew.

I would add to this the observation that the same could be said of another obligation formulated identically: “Havei dan es kol ha’adam lekaf zekhus — judge all people toward the [balance scale] plate of righteousness” (Avos 1:6), i.e. when in doubt about someone else, assume the best.

c- While “adam” may be ambiguous, it’s not ambiguous when used in contrast to “Yisrael.” And so, the Tif’eres Yisrael reads the following mishnah:

[R’ Aqiva] used to say, “Beloved is man, for he was created in the “Image” [of G-d]. It was an extra [show of] love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of G-d, as it is said, ‘For in the image of G-d He made man.’ (Bereishis 9:6)

Beloved are Israel, or they were called children of the Omnipresent. It was an extra [show of] love that it was made known to them that they were called children of the Omnipresent, as it is said, ‘You are children of Hashem your G-d.’ (Devarim 14:1)

Beloved are Israel, for to them was given the instrument by which the world was created[, the Torah]. It was an extra [show of] love that it was made known to them that they had the instrument through which the world was created, as it is said, ‘For I give you good doctrine; do not forsake my Torah.’ (Proverbs 4:2)

Therefore, the mishnah is saying that all human beings are chavivin because they are created betzelem, and the Jews are noted for having extra gift — being selected to represent Hashem among peoples, and getting the Torah. But every person is previous. Regardless of color, abilities or appearance. (This Tif’eres Yisrael is worth seeing, particularly the Boaz, as he waxes quite poetic about people who advanced mankind.)

We should realize that we are the mamlekhes kohanim, a kingdom of humanity’s priests. If we do not appreciate how the world is behaving, it’s our job as their clergy to take responsibility for the religious failings of our flock. We must struggle to survive as an am levadad yishkon, a nation that will dwell alone, so that we have a particularist identity as the world’s kohanim. But our mission and concerns must be universal.

This balance is seen in the berakhos before Shema, (among many other tefillos). The berakhah of Yotzeir Or is universal, about Hashem as the Creator of everything, once and continually bringing reality into existence. “Hakol yodukha — all shall know You.” Ma’ariv Aravim in the evening is similarly universal, “‘Hashem Tzevakos’ shemo — His name is ‘G-d of All Forces”. But then we have Ahavas Olam and Ahavah Rabba, describing the special love Hashem has for Jews in particular, the recipients of His Torah. To reach that universal goal, we have immediate needs to look to our own.

And may we soon merit that day when “They will all come together in a single union, to do Your will wholeheartedly.”

Something Else to Throw into the Bonfire

Saul Mashbaum wrote the following back during the “should we burn the wigs?” period a few years ago. I think it’s still quite apropos, a reminder of our priorities.


Sources close to several major poskim have claimed that they have declared a new chovat biur. “After examining the situation carefully, we have come to the conclusion that all Jews have an obligation to eradicate all sinat chinam in their possession” said the poskim “This obligation is more stringent than that of sheitels: it applies to all forms of sinat chinamvadai, safek, chashash, and taarovet sinat chinam – whatever its source. The obligation is incumbent on every Jew – men and women alike – at all times and in all places.”

Shortly after this announcement was made known, bonfires appeared in Jewish neighborhoods everywhere as masses of Jews rushed to respond to the gdolim‘s call. The crush was such that many had to wait hours on line for the opportunity to cast their sinat chinam into the flames.

Here and there tears could be seen in the eyes of the participants. “I hate to say it, but I’m really going to miss my sinat chinam” someone told our reporter. “It’s been part of me for so long, I can’t imagine being without it. But if the gdolim say it’s got to go, it’s got to go.”

Our reporter in the metivta d’rakea says that the famous tzaddik, R. Levi MiBerdichev, has already made an appearance before the Heavenly Court in response to this dramatic development. “Mi keamcha Yisrael“, said the ohev Yisrael with tears in his eyes. “Your holy people have gladly cast off a precious and intimate part of themselves for the sake of Your Divine Name. Surely You will have mercy on Your people.”

Halevai shenitzke l’kach.

Ben Shishim leZiqnah

I found I couldn’t let the day go without comment, so here are two old posts of mine written originally for other fora on the subject of the meaning of Zionism.

R’ Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l gave the following parable, to explain his position on the sanctity of “secular” Zionism.

During WWII, a family raised just enough money to get one son out of Europe. They gave him the family heirloom pocket-watch, contacted the Jewish Agency in NY, and put the young boy on a boat. The boy makes it to Ellis Island, and the Agency finds a home to raise the child.

He grows up, and in time, forgot his original family’s faces. But he still held onto the watch, and loved it for the attachment it represented.

Time marches on. He no longer even remembers how many siblings he had, or anything about his parents. But he still lovingly polishes his watch, keeps it wound, cares for it. You always saw him pull it from his pocket.

The man (no longer a boy) hits on hard times. He was forced to sell the watch. But still, he held onto the fob at the end of the chain. He was very attached to that watch-fob even though he remembered almost nothing of what it represented.

40 years later, a brother who survived the war finds him. The reunion is awkward, the man doesn’t remember any of that. The brother is frustrated. But during that reunion, he takes the fob out of his pocket. The brother cries, realizing that even though he doesn’t consciously remember his family, the feelings are still there, expressed on a piece of gold.

I was in Israel for the end of December 2002, mostly visiting my grandfathera”h. I therefore could only grab in short windows of “tourist” time. Much of that time I spent just walking the streets and experiencing its life. Some of it was a quick cab-ride to and from.

One such ride I hopped into a cab with a sticker on the dashboard, a metallic picture of a marijuana leaf. Had I not been rushed, I don’t think I would have sat down and buckled up before noticing. I believe that a pot habit is not conducive to safe driving — especially when the driving in question is taxi-style.

Looking at the little formica sign on the inside of the cab between the front and back doors, I got the driver’s name, and gave Yosef my grandfather’s address and asked for a fixed fare. He wanted to put it on the meter. I told him I’d prefer a flat rate, as I’m on a fixed budget. Yosef was surprised — an American tourist worried about a couple of shekels extra on a cab ride?

In short, being two Jews, we got to shmoozing. I explained that I was unemployed, and was there that week because I couldn’t job hunt during the Christian holidays anyway. That I was there seeing my older grandfather, whose health was poor. Yosef — who remember is a pot-head for all I know — quotes “Do not send us away when we are elderly; when our strength fails, do not leave us.” (Al tashlicheinu le’eis ziqnah… — a well known verse to people used to traditional liturgy.) The rest of the cab ride we spent discussing this verse of Psalms, it’s meaning, the grammar, the emotions, his own wishes for such a relationship with G-d…

Had Yosef been an American secular Jew, he’d probably still be a pot addict. But would he quote Tehillim or even recognize the verse? The love of Judaism that brought his teachers to teach him Tehillim when you and I were learning Orwell or Shakespeare, that gave him the care that goes into discussing it with a stranger, that sense of unity with other Jews that lead him not to treat me as a stranger to begin with… They’re all based in this concept of what Israel is.

Yosef still plays with his watch-fob, motivated by a love despite being unaware of its source.

… THAT is Zionism.

Two Tzadiqim on Loving the Evildoer

I found the following on a web site called “Two Tzaddiks: The Teachings of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz and His Disciple, Rebbe Raphael of Bershad”:

“In his teachings, R. Pinchas preached universal love, even love of the most sinful people in humanity, because only such love can hasten the coming of the Redeemer”. (Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim, by Milton Aron, pp. 63−64)

[R’ Pinchas of Koretz] once said: “Who is a consummate tzadik? He who loves a consummate rasha [wicked person]. Who is an incomplete tzadik? He who loves an incomplete rasha.” Ginsburgh explains: “In the inner [depths] of one’s soul, it is the very highest level of tzadik that reaches down in love to raise up the very lowest level of rasha. The inherent goodness of the consummate tzadik sweetens the existential suffering of the consummate rasha”. (The Mystery of Marriage: How to Find True Love and Happiness in Married Life, by Yitzchak Ginsburgh, p. 89)

R’ Pinchas said: “One must love even the sinful, but must hate their actions. Although it is forbidden to be close to the wicked, one must still love them, so that perhaps they will return to the path of the Torah. As our Rabbis teach us regarding Aharon, ‘He loved peace and actively pursued peace and brought people closer to Torah.’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12) By loving his fellow men, Aharon brought them close to Torah, bringing them back to the correct path. Although the Gemara (Pesachim 113) says that if one sees his friend sinning, it is a mitzvah to hate him, Sefer Hatanya (ch. 32) limits this to a friend who generally observes Torah and mitzvot, yet has spurned proper rebuke. However, regarding a person with whom one is not friendly in this manner, we find in Pirkei Avot, ‘Hillel was fond of saying, “Be a student of Aharon—love peace … love G-d’s creatures, and bring them closer to the Torah.”’ This refers even to those who are distant from Torah and the service of G-d, and for that reason are referred to merely as ‘creatures.’ They have to be drawn with bonds of love, hopefully bringing them back to serve G‑d”. (“Covenant of Peace,” by Mordechai Greenberg)

R’ Pinchas said: “How can we daven for someone to do teshuva? Are we not taught, ‘All is in the hand of heaven, except for the fear of heaven?’ But Hashem includes all souls, and whatever is in the Whole is also in each part. Each soul therefore includes all other souls. When you yourself do teshuva, you can bring your neighbor to do teshuva. This is because you are included in your neighbor, and your neighbor is included in you”. (Midrash Pinhas, cited in A Call to the Infinite, by Aryeh Kaplan, cited in “Included in Your Neighbor,” at A Simple Jew)

R’ Raphael said: “Love the man of wickedness. Why? Because he will then love you, and love will unite his soul and yours. As a consequence, inasmuch as you hate wickedness, you will transfer your hate to him, thereby causing him to repent and turn from evil to good”. (Midrash Pinhas, p. 51, cited in The Hassidic Anthology, by Louis I. Newman, p. 220. Reprinted with permission of Ann Newman)

R’ Raphael said: “A man should not think contemptuously of his ability to do good. Let him but choose and G-d does the rest. Is there any limit to G-d’s ability?”. (Midrash Pinhas, p. 44, cited in The Hassidic Anthology, p. 97)

“From our teacher, the rabbi, Rabbi Raphael [of Bershad] … may his light shine upon us: ‘“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” said Rabbi Akiva: “This is the greatest principle of the Torah.”’ The SHeLaH (R. Isaiah Horowitz, c. 1570-1626) poses the question that this is all very well with respect to [commandments] between one person and another, but with respect to [commandments] between a person and G-d, what is there to say? See there. At first, he—may his light shine upon us—said: ‘According to the plain meaning, when a person loves, the Shechinah rests upon them. In this way, “all workers of iniquity are dispersed” (Psalms 92:10) and it is easy to fulfill the Torah.’

“Later he expounded along the lines of what is written in the writings of R. Fradl … that this is by virtue of not being impatient with one’s fellows, but accepting everything with patience, without one’s heart becoming agitated and being impatient about the slightest thing. Without all this, it is impossible to fulfill ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ unless one has set aside the attribute of impatience, which is [derived] from the attribute of Power [Gevurah], and in this way, does not use the attribute of Power in matters of this world. [Then] it is easy [to utilize] the power of this attribute to be fearful and agitated before the blessed G-d. And this is the greatest principle of the Torah”. (Imrei Pinchas HaShalem, p. 32, cited in “The Loving One’s Neighbour as Oneself,” by Larry Tabick)

R’ Pinchas said: “My Rafael knows how to love the most wicked evil-doers!”. (Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters, by Martin Buber, p. 130)

R’ Pinchas said: “If men did not sin, the Lord would have no occasion to employ His attributes of mercy, compassion, and the like, but only His attributes of justice. Therefore, it follows that even sinners please the Lord; they bring into play His worthiest attributes”. (Nofeth Tzufim, p. 17 (A), cited in The Hasidic Anthology, p. 44; and, similarly, in Ideas and Ideals of the Hassidim, p. 66)

Fast for the Sinners

תני כשם שמתריעים עליהן בשאר ימי שבוע כך מתריעין עליהן בשביעית מפני פרנסת אחרים מהו מפני פרנסת אחרים חברייא אמרי מפני פרנסת עכו”ם…

A beraisa: Just as we blow shofar [and make a fast day] for [a lack of rain] on the other days of the seven-year cycle, so too we blow shofar for them during shemittah for the income of others.
What is “for the income of others”?
The peers said: for the income of idol worshipers.

— Yerushalmi Taanis 3:1 (vilna 13b-14a)

This alone reflects more Universalist values than we are used to seeing in today’s Orthodoxy. When there is a drought during shemittah, even though Jews are not permitted to farm this year anyway, we are to be pained enough over the plight of the non-Jew that we fast to appeal to Hashem to bring them relief. But look at this second answer:

ר”ז אמר מפני פרנסת חשודים.

Rabbi Zei’rah [known in the Bavli as Rav Zeira] said: for the income of those suspected [of violating shemittah].

— Ibid.

Someone sins and farms crops despite it being shemittah. Because of the drought, it is likely that his contra-halachic business will fail. Rather than being happy the sinner got his just deserts, the whole community fasts so that the sinner will not suffer a lack of this-worldly benefit from his sin!

This sugya teaches us just how far our love of others has to extend.

Clear the Air Week

לא חרבה ירושלים, אלא בשביל שלא הוכיח זה את זה.

Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to [usually translated: rebuke] one another.

Shabbos 119b

Not the sin we usually associate with the destruction of the Beis HaMiqdash. More often quoted is:

מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני ג’ דברים שהיו בו ע”ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים… אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע”ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות

The First Beis haMiqdash, why was it destroyed? Because of three things that were in it: idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed. [Proof-texts elided.] … But the second Beis haMiqdash, when they were involved in Torah, mitzvos and supporting acts of kindness, why was it destroyed? Because there was in it pointless hatred. This teaches you that pointless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed.

However, it is hard to say the two sins — not giving tochakhah (rebuking) and sin’as chinam (pointless hatred) — are unrelated. They are both prohibited in the same pasuq in the Torah (Vayiqra 19:17):

לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא.

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you shall truly give tokhachah to your compatriot, and do carry for him a sin.

There are three clauses in the pasuq, and it’s unclear how tightly they are coupled. Is “do not hate” and “you shall surely give tokhachah” aspects of one mitzvah, or two distinct mitzvos that happen to be listed in the same pasuq. The Ramban considers both possibilities:

בעבור שדרך השונאים לכסות את שנאתם בלבם כמו שאמר (משלי כו:כד) בִּשְׂפָתָיו יִנָּכֵר שׂוֹנֵא [וּבְקִרְבּוֹ יָשִׁית מִרְמָה] הזכיר הכתוב בהווה ואמר הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ מצוה אחרת ללמדו תוכחת מוסר “וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא” שיהיה עליך אשם כאשר יחטא ולא הוכחת אותו ולזה יטה לשון אונקלוס שאמר וְלָא תְּקַבֵּיל עַל דִּילֵיהּ חוֹבָא שלא תקבל אתה עונש בחטא שלו ואחרי כן צוה שתאהוב אותו והנה השונא את רעהו עובר בלאו והאוהב לו מקיים עשה

והנכון בעיני כי “הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ” כמו וְהוֹכִחַ אַבְרָהָם אֶת אֲבִימֶלֶךְ (בראשית כא:כה) ויאמר הכתוב אל תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ בעשותו לך שלא כרצונך אבל תוכיחנו מדוע ככה עשית עמדי וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא לכסות שנאתו בלבך ולא תגיד לו כי בהוכיחך אותו יתנצל לך או ישוב ויתודה על חטאו ותכפר לו ואחרי כן יזהיר שלא תנקום ממנו ולא תטור בלבבך מה שעשה לך כי יתכן שלא ישנא אותו אבל יזכור החטא בלבו ולפיכך יזהירנו שימחה פשע אחיו וחטאתו מלבו ואחרי כן יצוה שיאהב לו כמוהו

[It says “in your heart”] because it is the way of those who hate to cover up their hate in their hearts. As it says “With his lips, the hater dissembles [and within him he lays up deceit.]” (Mishlei 26:24). It says, “you shall surely give tokhachah to your compatriot” as a different mitzvah to teach him the tokhachos of Mussar. It says “and you shall not carry for him a sin” that there should be guilt upon you when he sins because you did not give him tokhachah. This is the way the Unqelus’s language inclines, as it says [in his translation of these last words], “And do not receive obligation on his account”.

What appears correct in my eyes is that “you shall surely rebuke” is like “And Avraham gave tokhachah to Avimelekh” (Bereishis 21:25). The verse is saying do not hate your brother in your heart when he did something to you that isn’t what you wanted. Rather give him tokhachah, “Why did you do like this to me?” [The verse continues, “and do not carry for him the sin” of hiding hatred for him in your heart without talking to him. For through such tokhachah you may get him to apologize to you or do teshuvah and confess his sin and we will be atoned. After that [continuing with the theme of the following verses], be careful not to takes revenge or hold a grudge in your heart over what he did to you. Because it is possible that he doesn’t hate him, but remembers the trespass in his heart. Therefore he is warned to erase his brother’s wrongdoing and sin from his heart, and finally he is commanded to love him as himself.

The Ramban’s first interpretation is that the verse has two distinct mitzvos:

(1) Do not hate another Jew in your heart. Why in your heart? Simply because that’s the most common way to hate, to let it simmer internally. Along these lines Rav Achai Gaon (She’ilta 27) explains this clause as though it said “do not hate your brother even in your heart”, and all the moreso do not express hatred. In contrast, the Rambam (Lo Sa’asei #302) says this sin is only hatred in one’s heart. Expressed hatred would violate other prohibitions, such as “do not take revenge” or “do not hold a grudge” or “do not strike”, or the like.

(2) Rebuke your neighbor, because otherwise you will share the guilt for his sin. You could have corrected him, you didn’t, so it’s partly your fault too. In this interpretation, “tokhachah” is taken the way it’s normally translated — rebuke.

The Ramban calls the second interpretation “correct in my eyes” and is the roughly the position of the Rashbam, the Ibn Ezra and the Chizquni (all on this verse). The pasuq is describing what is basically one mitzvah. Don’t hate another Jew, letting it simmer in your heart. Instead, talk it out with the person. Air your grievances. As the Ibn Ezra and Chizquni note, it could resolve what was a simple misunderstanding. Maybe, as the Ramban suggests, he will apologize and confess. But communication can end a fight and hatred, so we are obligated to communicate. This is a very different translation for the word “tokhachah“.

And yet regardless of how we explain the pasuq the mitzvah of tokhachah does indeed involve correcting someone else’s sins that aren’t against me. Such as warning others against Shabbos violations or harming a third party. But this too may derive from the notion of healing rifts:

מנין לרואה בחבירו דבר מגונה שחייב להוכיחו שנאמר (ויקרא יט, יז) הוכח תוכיח

From where is it that someone who sees something reprehensible in his friend, that he is obligated to give him tokhachah? For it says: “you shall surely give tokhachah“.

Helping someone else do what’s right is obvious of value, but that’s not the focus the pasuq is giving the mitzvah. (Also, giving tokhakhah in such cases is complicated, and is only permissible when there is a likelihood that the person or in some cases a spectator will actually change. It is prohibited to give tokhachah when the likely outcome is only more enmity, or that the person continues sinning, but now does so consciously rather than through ignorance. Consult your rabbi for many more details, as erring in either direction is a sin.)

Tokhachah is appropriate when someone is doing something that makes them look bad to you. Whether it’s a personal affront, or they do something to another or in their relationship to the Almighty that threatens to alienate them.

I snuck something in toward the beginning of this post. “Sin’as chinam“, most literally “free hatred”, is usually taken to mean “baseless hatred” (taking “free” to mean that nothing was “paid” to cause it). Knowing where the post was going, I instead translated it “pointless hatred”. Even if the hatred in one’s heart has a real cause, to refrain from trying to heal the rift would make the hatred pointless.

Which brings us back to our opening gemara, “Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to one another.” It would seem that this period should be considered “Clear the Air Week.” (Or Three Weeks, had I been writing back then.) A time to call someone I had a disagreement with, talk out our differences and eliminate the sin’as chinam from my heart.

With berakhos for an easy fast,


Compassion for Our Enemies

Updated 1/8/2014.

We have a minhag to pour out 16 drops of wine, once at each mention of a makah that befell the Egyptians. The earliest mention of this custom is in the Maharil (according to R’ Joseph Tabory, on Avodah), who says the reason is that we are promised “any distress which I placed upon the Egyptians I will not place upon you”. As the cup of wine represents Jewish redemption, thus the drops are us asking Hashem to spare us these troubles and send them to our enemies. It is also documented in numerous places that those who remove the wine with their index finger are commemorating the Egyptian mages’ description of the plagues, “it is the ‘Finger’ of G-d”.

The most common reason we pass around, however, is that we’re diminishing our joy out of compassion for the suffering of other human beings, even the Egyptians. This reason is relatively new, but it is found in such authoritative locations as the hagaddah of R’ SZ Aurbach and appears as a “yeish lomar” (it could be said) in that of R Elyashiv (pg 106, “dam va’eish“).

So the question arose on both Avodah and soc.culture.jewish.moderated whether the value of compassion for our enemies is authentically Jewish, and more relevant for those who saw the references to these hagados, the origin and history of it.

The search seems to center on the question of why we say Chatzi Hallel (an incomplete Hallel; hereafter CH) on the 7th day of Pesach.

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b) gives the reason that from the second day onward, the qorban for that day was the same as the one before. The days of Pesach lack a newness that those of Sukkos have, and therefore there is CH on all but the first day of Pesach, but full Hallel on every day of Sukkos.

The Pesiqta deRav Kahane (Mandelbaum Edition, siman 29, 189a) gives us a different reason. It tells the story of the angels singing/reciting poetry at the crossing of the Red Sea, which was on the 7th day of Pesach, and Hashem stopping them saying “Ma’asei ‘Yadai’ tov’im bayam, va’atem omerim shirah — the work of My ‘Hands’ is drowning in the sea, and you say shirah?”

The Jews, on the other hand, sang “Az Yashir” unimpeded. It would seem to me therefore that we were allowed to rejoice, but there is a limit or a sadness mixed into that joy.

This is midrash is quoted by the Midrash Harninu and the Yalqut Shim’oni (the Perishah points you to Parashas Emor, remez 566).

The Midrash Harninu or the Shibolei haLeqet (our only source for the Midrash Harninu) associate this midrash with “binfol“. This is despite the fact that the pasuq of “binfol” would literally mean not rejoicing at all, and here it’s being used to argue for ambivalence — merging the joy of the neis with the sorrow of what was necessary to be done to the Mitzriyim.

The Beis Yoseif (O”Ch 490:4, “Kol“) cited the gemara, then quotes the Shibolei haLeqet as a second reason.

שבלי הלקט (סי’ קעד סט:) כתב בשם מדרש הרנינו פרשת סוכה שהטעם שאין גומרין ההלל כל ימי הפסח הוא לפי שנטבעו המצריים וכתיב (משלי כד יז) בנפול אויבך אל תשמח.

And in the Shibolei haLeqet it is written in the name of the Midrash Harninu that the reason why we do not finish Hallel on all the days of Pesach[, only on the first] is because the Egyptians drowned. As it says “Binfol oyivkha, al tismakh” (Mishlei 24:17).

The topic of CH was discussed in a column in Jewish Action by R’ Ari Z Zivitofsky. Here are some of the sources he identified.

The Taz gives this diminution of joy as the reason for CH on the 7th day (OC 490:3), as does the Chavos Ya’ir (225).

The Kaf haChaim (O”Ch 685:29) brings down the Yafeh haLeiv (3:3) use this midrash to establish the idea that we mourn the downfall of our enemy in order to explain why there is no berakhah on Parashas Zakhor (remembering the requirement to destroy Amaleiq).

R’ Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon vol III pg 3) says that the gemara‘s reason for CH (that the qorbanos are the same as for the previous day) is meant to address only chol hamo’ed, and our medrash is the primary reason for the 7th day of Pesach.

Which exhausted what I found on CH and R’ Zivitofsky’s column.

Back on Avodah, R’ Jacob Farkas found the Meshekh Chokhmah (Shemos 12:16uveyom“), who uses “binfol” and our medrash as an argument for disassociating Purim and Chanukah from their military victories. We celbrate our salvation, not their downfall. He also cites R’ Shelomo Alkabetz (Manos haLeivi 9:20 “Vayikhtov Mordekha“) who writes that because “HQBH does not rejoice in the downfall of the evil”, we too should not rejoice at their downfall — imitatio dei. We therefore celebrate Purim only for our deliverance.

R’ Dov Kay points us to the Netziv’s into to HaEimeq Davar, Bereishis. He defines “Seifer haYesharim” as the book about those who showed concern even for the wicked, that this quality is what defines being yashar. He holds up Avraham’s atittude toward the people of Sedom as an example for us to follow.

So, regardless of whether this is the reason for CH on Pesach day 7 or for spilling wine at the seider, or just a lesson one can learn post-facto from one or both of these, I think we have succeeded in well establishing the Jewishness of the idea that we have compassion for the death of even evil people.

(In an earlier devar Torah I suggest that this mixture of emotions is a necessary element before an event is called a “yeshu’ah” in Tanakh. That it is in common between Noach getting saved, and why the rainbow is a mixed message, why Lot’s wife was punished for turning back when she was saved, and our case of the mal’akhim at Yam Suf, who had no right to sing praises since people had died and it wasn’t they who were saved.)

Similarly, this recognition of the role of ambivalence is found in the halakhah that someone who is left a large inheritence must say both the berakhah of “Dayan emes“, mourning the death, and “hatov vehameitiv” on becoming wealthy.

Here, the balance must be struck between two verses: “binfol oyivkha al tismakh — when your enemy falls do not rejoice” (Mishlei 24:17) and “ba’avod reshaim rinah — with the destruction of evil there are shouts of happiness” (11:10). The Zohar writes that the happiness is only when the destruction is to cure the evil, and therefore comes with their atonement. When they die because they are oyevim, enemies, who need to be eliminated to save the good rather than in the right time for their own sake, there is no joy. The gemara‘s resolutions (Sanherin 39b) is that while Hashem does not rejoice, He does call upon others to rejoice. However the Maharsha relates this back to the story of “the work of My “Hands’ is drowning…” The others rejoice at being the beneficiary of G-d’s good, even while recognizing the loss necessary for us to be saved from the wicked.

Interesting is one of the gemara’s prooftexts, found also in the Yerushalmi parallel at 4:9, 23b, is from a battle in Hodu Lashem, ki le’olam chasdo — Sing to Hashem, for His lovingkindness is eternal.” Rav Yochanan notes that two words are missing compared to the version in Hallel, “ki tov — for He is Good”. Because we do not consider the death of the wicked good. It is important to note that this is about the death of non-Jews, of longstanding enemies of the Jewish people since the Exodus! In the Yerushalmi, this is held in contrast to “ba’avod resha’im rinah — one should rejoice at the loss of the wicked” to yield a different resolution than the Maharsha’s understanding of the Bavli. The loss of the wicked through teshuvah would have been a source of joy, their downfall through death is to be mourned.

One can’t say (deapite the idea’s popularity in some circles), it’s an assimilated liberal or Christian value that was brought in through liberal Judaisms, or promoted by kiruv workers who want a more palatable Judaism to sell.

So why doesn’t “mi shemeracheim al ha’achzarim… — one who is merciful to the cruel will in the end be cruel to the merciful” apply? Perhaps it is because we aren’t talking about ignoring the very real need for their destruction. Unlike Sha’ul, who inappropriately saved Agag, we are not saying the Mitzriyim should have been spared. Rather, that it’s sad that things had come to this.

Someone who r”l needs to have a leg amputated should have it removed. He’ll mourn its loss and the loss of everything he could have done with it, but will still give his okay for its removal. “Mi shemeracheim” is the doctor who lets the patient die because he had pity on the leg.