Monday, July 12, 2021

Ahavas Yisrael / Love of the Jewish People

Dovid Sears
Erev Tisha beAv 5773 (2013) 

We are posting this short essay in light of the principle that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of “sinas chinam,” gratuitous hatred – and that the tikkun for such hatred is ahavas chinam, gratuitous love. This is particularly needed this year, when division and strife have spread like a plague throughout Eretz Yisrael. May a renewal of ahavas chinam speedily put an end to all discord among us, and may Tisha beAv at last be transformed to a day of celebration.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov instructed us to follow the custom of the Arizal by stating prior to davenning: Hareini mekabel alai mitzvas asei shel ve-ahavta le-re’akha kamokha - Behold, I accept upon myself the positive commandment to ‘love your fellow Jew as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18).”[1] Thus, one becomes united with all of Klal Yisrael. He also explained, “Through love and peace, it is possible to speak words of prayer. This is because speech is essentially bound up with peace, as it is written, ‘I shall speak of peace…’ (Psalms 122:8)”—and without peace, he adds, “it is impossible to speak or to pray, even if one is a man of peace.” The prayer service was redacted by the Men of the Great Assembly in the plural because it is a collective enterprise.

This reflects the underlying, essential unity of all Jewish souls—hence our mutual responsibility for one another. As our sages state, “All Israel are guarantors for one another.”[2] Accordingly, Hillel the Elder declared that the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew is tantamount to “the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary.”[3] 

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya, explains:[4] “The basis and root of the entire Torah is to elevate and exalt the soul … unto the Divine Source of all the worlds, and also to bring down the blessed Infinite Light upon the community of Israel … to become ‘One into One.’[5] [But] this is impossible if there is, G-d forbid, disunity among the souls, for the Holy One does not dwell in an imperfect place…’”[6] 

Master kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero describes the souls of Israel as being intrinsically united with one another and with the very Divine Presence.[7] Therefore, he goes on to say, “one should seek the benefit of his fellow [Jew] and view the other’s benefit with a good eye and cherish his honor—for we are one and the same! For this reason too we are commanded to ‘love your fellow Jew as yourself’ (loc. cit.). Thus, it is proper that one desire the well-being of his fellow and never speak ill of him or desire that evil befall him.”[8] This goodwill must extend to all members of the Jewish people, inasmuch as we are all part of one collective whole.

Yet we sometimes find that certain Jews may reject the fundamentals of faith and even oppose the religious values that we deem to be our “life and length of days.” Concerning this sad situation, the author of the Tanya observes, “But as for the person who is not one’s comrade [in fulfilling the Torah and commandments] and who is not close to him, Hillel said, ‘Be of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and drawing them near to the Torah.’[9] … One must attract them with strong cords of love—perhaps one will succeed in drawing them near to the Torah and divine service. And if one fails, he will not have forfeited the merit of the mitzvah of neighborly love.”[10]

Disagree, sometimes we must; argue, debate, and if all reason fails, walk away in a huff. But let us do so as brothers and sisters, who ultimately share a common point of origin and a common fate, and not as implacable enemies.

Chassidic tradition tells how the holy Berditchever Rov would welcome into his sukkah all sorts of Jews, including wayward Jews. Someone once asked, “How can you take such individuals into your sukkah?”  

The Berditchever Rov replied, “And what would a low character like me look like sitting in the sukkah of Avraham Avinu? Perhaps if I accept these wayward Jews into my sukkah, I too will be accepted into the sukkah of Avraham Avinu…” 

In the merit of the tzaddikim who felt with all of their hearts and souls the ahavas Yisrael that we all should feel, may we speedily be redeemed. Then all the grief associated with Tisha beAv will be transformed to unending joy.

[1] Likutey Moharan I, 239. Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Olam ha-Asiyah 1:3:2; Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, ‘Inyan Birkhas ha-Shachar, beginning.
[2] Shevuot 39a.
[3] Shabbos 31a.
[4] Likutey Amarim-Tanya, Chap. 32 (41a).
[5] Zohar II, 135a.
[6] Zohar I, 216b.
[7] This is also one of the foundations of the derekh ha-Baal Shem Tov, as discussed in Toldos Ya’akov Yosef, Kedoshim, et al. Rebbe Nachman mentions this principle, as well; see Likutey Moharan I, 260, where he refers to the souls of Israel as “actual portions of the Shekhinah.
[8] Tomer Devorah, chap. 1, s.v. “le-she’aris nachalaso.”
[9] Avos 1:12.
[10] Loc. cit.

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