Leap of Love
Volume 6 Issue 31
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Among the many commandments explicated in this week's Torah portion we find
the ubiquitous phrase of brotherly love. "Love your neighbor as yourself"
(Leviticus 19:18) has found its way, in varying forms, into the moral codes
of an array of cultures and civilizations.
What is interesting, however, are the phrases that precede this
exhortation "You shall not take revenge, and you shall not bear a grudge
against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as
yourself -- I am Hashem."
Rashi quotes the Talmud in Yoma on the varying forms of grudges: If
Reuven says to Shimon, "Lend me your sickle," and Shimon replies,
"No!" And the next day Shimon says to Reuven, "Lend me your hatchet," and
Reuven retorts, "I am not going to lend it to you, just as you refused to
lend me your sickle" - this is avenging. "Bearing a grudge," however, is:
If Reuven says to another, "Lend me your hatchet", and he replies
"No!" And on the next day he says to him, "Lend me your sickle," and
Reuvain replies "Here it is; I am not like you, because you would not lend
me" - this is bearing a grudge because he retains enmity in his heart
although he does not actually avenge himself.
The strange juxtaposition seems a bit difficult to comprehend. Why would
the Torah warn us against revenge, an act that is surely filled will malice
and ill-will, and then command us to instead love our brother as our
self? Surely one who wants revenge is not ready to take that great leap,
from anger-filled rage to the highest level of brotherly love?
Shouldn't the Torah rather end the exhortations with the plea of brotherly
reconciliation? Isn't asking the potential avenger to love the object of
his anger like himself asking too much?
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Baranovitch Yeshiva,
visited the United States in the latter part of the 1930s to raise funds
for his yeshiva. Unfortunately, he made a greater impact on the America
than America made on his yeshiva, and the funds raised did not help
much. Reb Elchonon returned to a Poland clouded by the darkness of war to
be with his students for the ensuing nightmare. The Nazis later murdered
him together with his students in Kovno (Kaunus) Ghetto.
While he was in the United States, he was accompanied by young,
enthusiastic students, my father amongst them, who felt privileged to help
the great sage in his efforts.
Once, a student brought him to visit a wealthy man who had a philanthropic
reputation. The bachur was confident that the meeting would prove
successful. Unfortunately, the expectations proved fruitless, and Reb
Elchonon and the student were shown to the door, empty-handed.
The young man left the house and sat down on the steps of the mansion
utterly dejected. Reb Elchonon, who was quite tall, bent down to him, "Why
are you so upset?" he asked softly.
"Upset? Why shouldn't I be upset? This man has the ability to support your
whole yeshiva for a year, and he sent us away as if he does not have the
ability to give even a dime!"
Reb Elchonon smiled. "The Torah tells us that Moshe was told to choose
Betzalel to build the Mishkan. Let us assume that Moshe went in the street
and asked where he could find Betzalel. Moshe was told that Betzalel could
be found in the Bais Medrash. He went into the Bais Medrash and asked
someone, 'Are you Betzalel?' The man said no. Should Moshe have been
upset? Of course not! It's not the man's fault that he was not Betzalel!
He was not born Betzalel and his job was obviously not to be
Betzalel! Moshe went to another man. Are You Betzalel? Again the man said
no! Should Moshe have been angry with him? Again, of course not!
"Well, my son," continued Reb Elchonon, "You can't be upset with him! He
is just not the man that was chosen to help!"
Perhaps one can explain the verse by saying that one cannot be upset when
the hammer is not offered. If your friend did not give you want you
wanted, then this particular neighbor is obviously not the vehicle,
messenger, or shliach to give it to you! You can't avenge that fact!
Perhaps that is why the phrase to love your neighbor as yourself follows
the Torah's exhortations against revenge. At a time that you are
disappointed, even angry, at a friend or relative for not lending or giving
you an item, take a step back and think. "Are you angry at yourself for
not having a hammer?"
Of course not! Why should you be? You don't own a hammer! You can't be
angry at yourself if you don't have the hammer! If you don't have a hammer
you can't give yourself the hammer!
The posuk is telling us. "You shall not bear a grudge; you shall love your
neighbor as yourself! Just as you do not bear a grudge at yourself for not
having a hammer, don't be angry at anyone else. After all, they obviously
weren't the ones chosen to give it to you! So next time you are upset at
someone for not aiding you in what you yourself could not achieve,
think. Do not take revenge or harbor ill-will. Treat your neighbor as you
would have treated the original culprit of incapability and love him as
Dedicated in memory of Tillie Beer by Ira and Gisele Beer -- 30 Nisan
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
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