We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Find someone you may be angry with or have ignored for some reason and initiate greeting them when you see them.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #5
DO NOT HATE
PART 2 - Sin'a and Keeping a Distance
While we may not hate someone who rubs us the wrong way, we do not have an obligation to be his best friend. Therefore, when people differ in their opinions on hashkafos (outlooks) on life (as we often find among different religious circles, political factions or families), or when another person’s physical defect, habits or actions are repugnant to us (even if it is only due to our own hypersensitivity), then there is nothing wrong with keeping our interactions with that person to a minimum, as long as we are not doing it because of underlying feelings of sin’a.
At times, keeping a certain distance may even be recommended, as it will help us retain a sense of mutual respect. However, we should always be careful to nurture feelings of love for the person, even if certain aspects of his behavior, personality or lifestyle are not to our liking, so as to avoid violating the mitzva of v’ahavta l’ray’acha kamocha.
Similarly, we may avoid a person’s company for the simple reason that we find it to be a waste of time, or because we are not on the same wavelength, or because we don’t want to have to tolerate his bad middos. Certainly we may keep our distance if we don’t want to learn from his poor character, as long as we are careful to avoid doing anything that would fall into the category of revenge or bearing a grudge. Even if we have no particular reason at all, other than the fact that we don’t enjoy being with him, we are not obligated to maintain a friendship, but we must meticulously avoid any feelings of sin’a. (Mishpetei Hashalom 2:12-13)
(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)
Story: (based on a true story)
For several years my relationship with my cousin Molly was strained. The backdrop of our relationship seemed to be riddled with competitiveness and jealousy. We were able to laugh together sometimes, but mostly she would peer over her shoulder to see the activities I was involved in, how successful I was and how happy I appeared to be while appearing jealous at the same time. My genuine level of happiness always seemed to threaten her. So when I decided to become religious, Molly constantly bothered me. She claimed that she didn’t understand why I changed. Every time we had a family gathering she would make negative remarks about how I dressed and what I ate. She even tried to get the rest of the family to turn against me and exclude me from family activities because as she claimed, “I wasn’t the same and would ruin the atmosphere with my archaic rules”. As I was new at Torah observance, I wasn’t always sure how to react. On the one hand I understood that Molly didn’t understand my choices and was totally ignorant about Judaism. My hunch was that she was jealous of my positive outlook and ability to make meaningful decisions. Whereas she was still stuck in the secular rat race of attaining life satisfaction through fame and fortune, I seemed to have made a detour and found real happiness somewhere else. This threatened her. Because of this, I made numerous attempts to explain my life changes to her, to bring her to beginner’s classes or to join me at Shabbos meals. I tried being understanding and sensitive to her attitude and didn’t judge her for the way she treated me or the choices she had made in her life.
On the other hand, I was becoming a virtual punching bag. Was it necessary for me to be around someone who showed no effort in understanding my way of life and then hurl snide remarks by constantly highlighting our differences? Did I have to put up with the eye rolling, insults, and whispering when I’d leave a room? I tried every possible idea I could think of to pacify her, but to no avail. It seemed that she was always angry, jealous or threatened. Did I have to submit myself to this abuse?
I spoke to my Rov about it and was told that although I should always be genuinely kind and respectful to Molly, I was not obligated to be in her company. Not only that, but he explained to me that I could express to her that I wanted to have a relationship but only if she would stop insulting me. If not, I would not be able to continue having contact as before.
The time came when the negativity and sarcasm were so bad that I was forced to have the conversation with her. Although I don’t like being confrontational, I decided that I had to protect my sanity. I saw Molly and told her I needed to talk about something with her. I explained that although I loved her (which was a growing challenge everyday!) and wanted to have a relationship with her I would not be able to unless she would stop what she was doing. I expressed that I felt hurt and was too uncomfortable to be with her if she continued to treat me the way she had been. Molly was in a bit of a shock and didn’t say much. I could tell that I had penetrated something very deep inside of her. I think once she realized that she had really hurt me, she modified her attitude. When it came down to it, she was struggling and wanted the relationship but was too down on herself to admit that I had done something good when I decided to become a Ba’alas Teshuva. To this day our relationship is not rock solid but for that one raw moment in time when I was able to express my feelings, we turned a corner in our relationship.
At the time the Rabbi told me I didn’t have to put up with her behavior, I felt hesitant to have the conversation. Could I be so forward? Could I tell my cousin that our relationship was contingent on her behavior? On the other hand, I felt I was doing the right thing by following the halacha. Whether I decided to have the conversation with Molly or not, I was not obligated to subject myself to anyone else’s verbal abuse. In the end, the best part was the fact that by following the proper halacha we were able to turn the situation around and continue with our relationship. I’m not saying it’s easy, but by not blowing my top and calmly setting limits, we were able to reconcile in a dignified and respectful way. Before I was religious I probably would have bid her farewell long ago. Being knowledgeable of the halacha helped save my relationship with Molly. Although she’s not much closer to Judaism now than she was then, at least she can see that by adopting a true Torah way of life, one grows and cares about how they treat their relationships as much as how they dress and eat.
Discussion Question Options:
How can we show greater tolerance for people with different hashkafos than us even though they may be very vocal about their views?
Why do people often ignore the one they’re arguing with as opposed to facing the challenge and trying to work out the issues?
What are the appropriate thoughts we should have when interacting with someone who annoys us?
Stretch of the Week:
Work on adjusting your thinking about the people who you don’t naturally get along with by remembering that HaShem has placed them in your life to grow.