Friday, July 6, 2018

Good Sense from Nikolsburg!

The Biblical phrase, “Love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) serves as the foundational verse promoting Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) and Ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews). Do we really need to love someone else, as much as we love ourselves? Are we not programmed biologically to look out for ourselves? Is it even possible to love someone else as much, especially if they are not related, or a friend or even an acquaintance?

A student approached his Rebbe, Rabbi Shmelke, (1726-1778) the Rabbi of Nikolsburg (Moravia, modern day Czech Republic) and asked how can one fulfill the Biblical mandate to love his fellow when the individual has caused much pain and suffering?

Rabbi Shmelke responded that all souls eminate from the same source and are united. If one’s right hand accidentally hits oneself, does the left hand punish its partner for the errant strike? Of course not! Both of one’s hands are part of the same body. It would be ludicrous for one hand to punish the other. It would even be counterproductive, as it would add pain, not alleviate it. The same can be said of the body of Israel, taught the Nikolsburg Rav. (This story and others can be found in Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim).

Rav Shmelke teaches a powerful lesson, which can apply to any negative situation in life. If we envision the sad image of a person punishing his delinquent hand, we can perhaps forestall lashing out at, or responding in kind to, someone who may have strayed, someone whose intentions were pure, or someone who acted rashly without thinking the matter through. Rav Shmelke’s metaphor is one small weapon in the arsenal of Ahavat Chinam and Ahavat Yisrael we should always endeavor to employ, but especially during the Three Weeks.

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