We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Be mevater. Give in on something that you think
will help bring peace.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
PIRKAY AVOS--ETHICS OF OUR FATHERS
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Ohaiv Es HaB’ri’os U’m’ka’r’van LaTorah
Love People and Bring Them Close To Torah
Perek Aleph, Mishna Yud Bais
Story: (based on a true story)
There’s a new family on my block. They moved in a few doors down and across the street, and I joined the rest of my neighbors in bringing them food and inviting the children over. We had the Shermans for Shabbos lunch a few weeks in, and we have a lot in common. It’s so great to like your neighbors.
We have a mostly frum block, with mostly young families. There are a couple of non-Jewish families and one older non-frum couple, the Steinbergs, who I talk to for a few minutes each day or so when we meet taking out the trash or while we’re coming and going. A little after we moved in, I remembered my seminary days with Rav Chanoch Teller telling us that there’s no such thing as “not frum” but only “not yet frum”, and I invited Steinbergs for a Shabbos meal. They politely declined, and did so again a few months later for yom tov, so we resumed short hello’s and five minute discussions of the weather and whether my toddler was keeping me running.
Years later, I was talking to my new neighbor Chava Sherman as our children rode bikes in front of our houses. Mrs. Steinberg was walking by, and stopped to say hello. She then thanked Chava for the wonderful Friday night meal they had in her home a few
days beforehand, sighing that “those Shabbos candles sure brought back memories.”
The two made plans to meet for lunch the next day, and Mrs. Steinberg moved on. I was floored. Had I not tried to invite the Steinberg’s years ago? Actually, so had my next door neighbor, and we had both been turned down. We figured the Steinbergs
weren’t interested, and that was that. I had to find out what had changed, so I asked Chava how she had gotten them to come.
“It was no big deal for us,” she said. “My husband asked Mr. Steinberg to help set up a garden for us, and they’ve been working together on Sundays. We’ve just become friendly. Did you know the Steinbergs met in the USO while he was in the army? They
have such amazing stories to tell. My kids just sit and listen, which helps me too! So we invited them to join the family for a Shabbos meal and they came. Mr. Steinberg even said Kiddush. He said it reminded him of his grandfather.” Wow. That was pretty amazing. I mentioned to Chava that I had tried to invite them and had no success, but more power to her. I was a little envious that she had managed to get through to them.
A couple of weeks later on the way to a shalom zachor, I walked by the Steinbergs on Friday night and saw Shabbos candles shining through the front window. I mentioned it to Chava the next day, and she smiled widely, explaining that Mrs. Steinberg had dug them out of her attic and asked her to pick up some candles. Then Chava paused. “Mrs. Steinberg told me why they decided to come for that meal,” she said. “She told me that whenever someone from the block invited her she always felt like a project.
She kept thinking, ‘I’ve lived a lot longer than you. Let me be.’ But since we were friends and they enjoyed spending time with us, they figured they’d give it a try.” I didn’t know what to say. Noticing my silence, Chava began backpedaling, saying that
of course I wasn’t treating the Steinbergs like a project when I invited them over but Mrs. Steinberg had felt like that. But I knew that Mrs. Steinberg was right. It is not wrong to want every Jew to taste and love Torah, but I had seen it as ‘something important to do’, versus really getting to know the person I was talking to.
Chava and her husband didn’t become friends with the Steinbergs in order to do kiruv with them. They simply saw a couple they could give to and receive from. They were friendly, and looked up to the Steinbergs for their strengths, learning from them as they
spent time together. They genuinely value the Steinbergs as people, and the Steinbergs felt that. Maybe they even felt and absorbed the Sherman’s love of yiddishkeit, and coupled that with the fact that they are good people. The relationship was able to bridge a gap, and the Steinbergs used it to stretch themselves a bit religiously, and then a bit more.
So now my goal is not to look for projects, but to look at the person themselves. It doesn’t mean I won’t sign up for Partners in Torah, but it does mean I will get to know my partner as a person, accepting from her as well as giving to her. I won’t build the
relationship strictly in service of the kiruv goal. I will simply look for and find the wonderful person inside each Jew.
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“...Hillel omer: hevay mitalmidav shel Aharon…ohaiv es ha’b’ri’os u’m’ka’r’van laTorah.”
“… Hillel said, be of the students of Aharon…love people and bring them close to Torah.” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Yud Bais).
“Aharon walked with Hashem with peace and straightness, and turned many away from sin” (Malachi 2:6). How did Aharon turn people away from sin? When he met a wicked person, he would greet warmly. The following day, when this person had the impulse to sin, he would reflect, “How can I do such a thing and then look Aharon in the eye?” (Avos deRabbi Nosson). Aharon neither rebuked sinners nor withdrew from them, Instead, he loved them, and in this way brought them to the Torah.
The most effective means of kiruv is through ahavas yisrael-sincere love of one’s fellow Jew. As Rabbi Akiva related, “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha zeh k’lal gadol batorah.”
Through fulfillment of the mitzva of loving one’s peers, we can create a great Torah nation. Similarly, Jewish unity was a crucial prerequisite for the giving of the Torah. In Parshas Yisro the Torah describes the jewish people’s encampment with the words,
“Vayichan sham yisrael neged ha’har,” and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain
(Shemos 19:2). Rashi comments that the use of the singular verb “vayichan”, and he encamped, teaches that they were “one man with one heart.”
It is well known that every Jew enjoys his unique portion in Torah. Certain aspects of Torah can only be discovered by this specific individual, as we request every Shabbos and
Yom Tov, “V’sayn chelkainu b’Torasecha”, grant us our portion in Torah. Aharon wasn’t content to merely bring the Jewish people closer to Torah. Instead, he insisted upon helping everyone achieve his unique potential for Torah scholarship.
Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch points out that Hillel requires that we bring people close to Torah-not the other way around. Some believe that in order to make the Torah palatable it must be molded to fit modern patterns of thought and
behavior. But it is precisely Hillel-the paradigm of patience and tolerance-who states that our Torah does not change with seasons. There is no greater love than that which impels us to bring others close to Torah, for by influencing them to walk in its ways we
give them the gift of joy in this world and the good hidden away for the righteous in the world to come. When you love others, as a natural consequence, you will bring them close to Torah.
(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of
the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders,
ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)
Discussion Question Options:
What steps can we take to build our love and respect for Jews who are religiously different from us?
How does a person do kiruv without making people feel like “kiruv cases”?
How can this concept apply to our relationship with our children?
Stretch of the Week:
Identify something you appreciate about someone you see often but feel you have little in common with.×‘