Parshas Devarim – Learning to Love

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פרשת דברים

EISAV IS OUR BROTHER, FOREVER

At the end of the forty years in the midbar, when the Am Yisroel was passing near Edom, the land of the Bnei Eisav, Hakodosh Boruch Hu spoke to Moshe Rabeinu: אתם עוברים בגבול אחיכם בני עשיו – “You are now approaching the border of your brothers, the sons of Eisav” (D’varim 2:3). And in case you missed it, a few pesukim later (2:8) we read again, ונעבור מאת אחינו בני עשיו – “And we passed by our brothers, the sons of Eisav.” Hashem is referring to the nation of Edom as our brothers!

Now, when our people were encamped on the border of Edom, it was hundreds of years after Eisav had parted ways from the Bnei Yisroel..Two hundred and seventy years of no contact between the families! They had nothing in common anymore, except for a distant ancestor. And still, Hashem reminds us again and again that the Bnei Eisav are our brothers.

And in case you would want to think that it’s merely a form of speech, a sort of reminiscing of old ancestral ties, in Parshas Ki Seitzei  Hakodosh Boruch Hu tells us that He means it l’maisah. Hashem tells us that it’s halacha l’maisah! He commands us: לא תתעב אדומי כי אחיך הוא – “You should not abominate the Edomite – that’s the Bnei Eisav – because he is your brother.”(23:8)  “Be careful with אחיכם; with your brothers. Don’t antagonize them, don’t fight with them.”  Hashem doesn’t say that about other nations. And why shouldn’t you look down at Bnei Eisav, says Hashem? כי אחיך הוא – because he is your brother. “Your brother”?! As you remember, Eisav wasn’t such a good brother even when he was alive. He had been a peril, a danger, and Yaakov didn’t want to continue fraternizing with Eisav. He was happy to shake him off. When Eisav departed from Eretz Canaan, Yaakov breathed a sigh of relief. And now, after hundreds of years, he was already long dead, and his descendants in Edom were completely idolatrous. They didn’t identify at all with the family of Yaakov, the Bnei Yisroel. And they themselves had no brotherly feelings for the Bnei Yisroel. And yet, the Torah says about Eisav’s descendants, אחיך and אחיכם; Remember that they are your blood brothers. And you have to treat them like brothers!!

SHOULD YOU INVITE YOUR FOURTH COUSIN?

Now, it’s not easy to feel brotherly emotions to even good brothers if you haven’t lived with them for two hundred and seventy years. He’s only a fourth cousin of yours, you’ll say. You wouldn’t even invite him to your daughter’s wedding. Even if both of you are shomrei torah u’mitzvos, still it’s so far removed that we don’t feel anything. Even today when we find somebody who comes from the same distant ancestor, it might be interesting, it might be a curiosity, but it doesn’t even enter our minds that we’re blood brothers who must feel affection for one another.

Now, we should learn from this what it means to be “a brother.” And we should therefore begin to reconsider our attitude toward our Jewish brothers, our blood brothers – no matter how far away they live, and no matter how much we feel disconnected from them. Because the Torah is our model for how to think. And if such a brother, a brother that we were happy to get rid of, is still considered a brother after all these generations, then how much more so, a kal v’chomer ben b’no shel kal v’chomer, should we consider as our brothers our fellow Jews descended from Yaakov Avinu. There’s no question that we should be feeling the emotions of brotherhood for all of our fellow Jews.

HILLEL’S KIRUV WORK

And it’s not enough to merely have a superficial feeling of brotherhood. You remember when the prospective ger came to Hillel, and he requested that the entire Torah should be taught to him while standing on one foot? So Hillel said yes, “Pick up your foot, and let’s get going”. And Hillel told him the following words. מאי דעלך סאני לחברך לא תעביד – “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.” Loving your fellow Jew, זו כל התורה כולה – that is the whole Torah, ואידך פירושא – and the rest is an explanation, זיל גמור – so go learn the rest of the Torah. Because the whole Torah is founded on this yesod of loving your fellow Jew.

So when people hear this story, they think it was some sort of salesmanship; Hillel wanted to win the ger over, so he gave him some easy type of solution, an easy mitzvah. But of course we know it’s not so. Hillel wasn’t the rabbi of Temple Ahavat Israel where all you have to do is love everybody and pay membership. And he didn’t tell the ger what we would have said. He didn’t quote the first and most fundamental commandment אנכי השם אלוקיך – “I am Hashem, your G-d.” (Shmos 20:2) which certainly is most obligatory. No, he didn’t tell the ger about that one. Rather, Hillel was telling him that the foundation for greatness, the most important opportunity for perfection, is in the mitzvah ואהבת לרעך כמוך. One of our prime functions in life is to achieve love of the Am Yisroel despite all the various interactions and frictions that occur. To love your fellow is a great principle of the Torah – the Yerushalmi says that – it’s a klal gadol batorah, a great, all inclusive principle of the Torah.

It’s not just a nice thing, a good middah. Loving your fellow Jew is the foundation of your avodas Hashem because there is nothing more important in this world than a Yisroel. There is nothing Hashem loves more in the world than the offspring of Avraham Yitzchok and Yaakov. And therefore, any feeling of affection that you generate in your mind for a fellow Jew, is an emulation of how Hashem Himself is thinking. The more you love a Jew, and the more Jews you love, the more you are walking in the ways of Hashem.

AHAVAS ESKIMOS

And the first thing that we must consider when talking about loving Jews is that we’re not merely talking about the same kind of affection that people in an African country would have for each other. The Hutus are also obligated to have feelings of affection towards their fellow natives; they’re not exonerated from this. Hakodosh Boruch Hu is going to demand from every Eskimo that he should love every other Eskimo.

When you hear this, it might seem far fetched, but that’s because we’re not yet thinking along with the attitudes of the Torah. But that’s a problem because really we are obligated to love those of a common ancestry. And that’s the most basic form of affection, expected even from the Zulus and the Irish. All those who are called McDougal should love each other because they come from the same man. They’ll say it’s so far away, maybe five hundred years; but it makes no difference. He’s your brother.

But suppose now that we are not talking to this gentleman in the Congo who must love his fellow Kafiers, his fellow Hottentots. We are talking now to Jews, and we’re saying that you have brothers too; you also have your own people who are to be appreciated as brothers.

JEWS SHARE MORE THAN DNA

And when we talk about the Bnei Yisroel, a completely new dimension is added; a very big and huge new attitude is included  in the concept of אחיך, much more than by any other nation. Because it’s not a brother like Eisav who is merely connected to us by blood, by DNA.  A fellow Jew is a brother who is עמיתך, he’s עמך בתורה ובמצוות. Chazal tell us that אחיך means אחיך במצוות, “your brother in mitzvos.” It’s not merely a brother of the same ancestor; it’s a brother of the same mind! With the same ideals and attitudes; he’s your brother in arms.

Ohhh, now we’re talking! Because even though we all have our differences and our own lives, there always remains this glue of service of Hashem that binds us together in this kinship of brotherhood. More than a blood line, it’s a real bond, something that actually ties us together. Among ourselves, we have to be the best of friends. Because no matter where you are; you could be Jew in Australia, a Satmerer in Williamsburg, or a Jew in Tel-Aviv, we’re all in this world for one purpose, to serve Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Now, I’m not talking about the Israeli in Tel-Aviv who wears an earring. You know, that to be an Israeli today, you have to wear an earring. But we’re not talking about him. No, we’re talking about the oivdei Hashem, those who know their purpose in this world. When we feel that we’re all fighting together for one cause, to serve Hashem, we’re all marching together in the same regiment, so it’s much easier to have a love for your fellow men. How much more of an affection are you supposed to feel for such brothers who are of one mind with you!

LOVING THOSE THAT ARE MODEH B’MIKTZAS

All the kehillos, even the Modern Orthodox who are far away from our great ideals of avodas Hashem, are our brothers. Absolutely! If a Jew is a שומר מצוות, he tries to keep the mitzvos, then even though he doesn’t exactly do everything the way we do it, he’s still a brother. If he doesn’t do aveiros, if he’s a שומר מצוות, I don’t care what kind of yarmulke he wears. If he wears a knitted yarmulkeh or if he wears something else, he’s still my brother. Even a small little yarmulkeh, so he’s a modeh b’miktzas, but he’s still one of ours. A person who keeps טהרת המשפחה, family purity, he eats kosher, he sends his children to Yeshiva and not public school, he’s a shomer Shabbos, he has mezuzahs on his doors – a person like that is our brother, and don’t make any mistake about it. And you need to love him.

Now, don’t misquote me; I’m not saying that the Modern Orthodox man has to be your brother in the sense that you’ll move into the same house as him. It doesn’t mean that you should associate with him. That’s something else altogether. Over here, in this place, we say that we want to associate only with the best ones because we want to be the best. But when you see another frum Jew on the street, any frum Jew, he’s your brother in the most literal sense of the word. And you have a mitzvah of ואהבת לרעך כמוך – you have a mitzvah to love him. That’s how to think about your fellow Jew. And even though he follows a different Rebbi, or a different set of political objectives, nevertheless, don’t lose sight of the fact that fundamentally he belongs to your people and that therefore you’re מחויב, you’re obligated, to think well of him, to recognize him as your brother, and to love him.

AVODAS HASHEM OVERRIDES KEHILLA AFFILIATION

I’ll give you a משל. Imagine a family, with many brothers. I’m speaking of the family of old, when people were still loyal to the concept of family. All the brothers – whatever they may do, wherever they may live – are dedicated to the needs and ideals of the family. And the members of the עם ישראל are similarly the members of one family, dedicated to the ideal of serving Hashem. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Syrian Jew or a Polish Jew. A Jew from Morocco or from Germany. You could be a Chossid from Williamsburg or a Litvak. It doesn’t matter which kehillah you belong to. Whatever the differences may be, the glue of avodas Hashem is a stronger bond than any of the superficial differences. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Satmerer kehillah or the Bobover kehillah or any other kehillah of the Am Yisroel.  What matters is that we share a common purpose, the service of Hashem We’re all one kehillah serving under the glorious banner of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We, the Bnei Yisroel, all live in this world, together, as a single unit, for one purpose only – to serve Hashem, our Father.

Think about it; Every Jew, wherever he may be, I don’t care if he’s Sefardi or Ashkenazi, he’s putting on Tefillin every day and preparing for Shabbos on Friday afternoon. On Sukkos we are all eating our meals in the Sukkah and we’re all eating matzah on Pesach night. Throughout the world, Menorahs are being lit on the nights of Chanukah. Three times a day, all over the world, we – men and boys – gather together in the Shuls to daven. And the examples are endless. How can one not feel the bond of the achvah knowing that around the world, his fellow Jews are all unified in serving Hashem? And that is what binds us together as אחים, brothers.

LOOK AROUND AND LOVE!

You can’t even imagine what an opportunity you’re missing by not making use of this feeling of achvah, of brotherly camaraderie, that is available to you. The next time you walk into shul and you see the Am Yisroel gathering to daven to Hashem, you should put your mind to work: “This is my nation! My brothers! And we all share the common purpose of serving Hashem.”  And when you’re shopping in the kosher supermarket and it’s crowded, and the lines are long – those are precious moments! You’re looking down the aisles and all you can see are your “brothers and sisters”. Women, men, children, all buying kosher food. That’s a nation dedicated with a singular heart to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. ישראל אין להם אלא לב אחד לאביהם שבשמים – “The whole Am Yisroel has but one heart devoted to their Father in Heaven” (Sukkah 45b). It’s not just poetry, it’s the greatness of the Am Yisroel that binds us  as brothers.

And in view of this lesson, the word אחיך, “your brother,” that is used everywhere in the Torah in reference to our fellow-Jews, acquires a much more powerful and realistic function. Because this bond of brotherhood that exists between us is infinitely stronger than the tenuous bond that existed between the בני ישראל and the בני עשיו.

WHAT’S A REAL BROTHER?

The truest, the most profound understanding of the word אחיך, is a recognition of what it is that actually binds us together as brothers. And we are expected to feel this emotion of אחיך because we are all dedicated to the one, and only one, ideal of serving Hashem. We love all those who are shomrei mitzvos and maintain the ways of the Torah, and that is what binds us together with the bond of אחיך, a bond  than any other familial bond in the world. Because there is no stronger of a bond than the bond of a common purpose in life. And this is the reason why Hashem refers to our fellow-Jew as an אחיך repeatedly throughout the Torah. Because Hashem is teaching us how we should view another Jew – as a genuine brother, a thousand times, a million times more than the feelings of brotherhood that Hashem demanded from the Am Yisroel as they passed by their distant cousins, the Bnei Eisav. If towards an Edomite, the descendant of our ancestor’s brother, we must feel an emotion of brotherhood, then how much more, how many more thousands of degrees of brotherhood should we feel towards a fellow Jew, a fellow Jew who we are commanded to love!

When it says ואהבת לרעך כמוך, it doesn’t mean that you should tolerate him, or even that you should get along with him. It means that you should generate a ahavah, a love, a real love, for your fellow Jew. You have to understand how far away we really are from even beginning such an avodah. Of course, we’re willing to say that we agree with the idea. Maybe someday we’ll even come around to it. But we won’t. You won’t come around to it unless you start doing something about it.

LOVING THE LUNCH EATERS

Now some people are so ambitious that they feel it’s not important enough, it’s too small a task, to love only your fellow Orthodox Jews. So here’s a man who wants to go out and love the whole world. He loves the Hottentots and the Zulus too. And he even loves the whales. He loves everyone, everything!

But really, he doesn’t even begin to love his own brother. His blood brother he doesn’t love! He hates him and hasn’t spoken to him in ten years. Sometimes his mother and father too. He can’t get along with his neighbors. But the Zulus in Africa who would eat him for lunch if they were hungry, them he loves. Why not? It doesn’t cost any more money. And for the same price they can love the blacks and the browns and the whales and the trees. A nechtigeh tug! The truth is that he doesn’t love anyone.

If you start out by loving everybody, it means that you’ll end up loving no one at all. Because if you “love everybody” then it means you’re not serious about putting real effort into this avodah.

It’s like the liberals. They say they love everybody. Love, love, love. They put out stamps now, postage stamps, that say “LOVE”. What does ‘love’ mean? I don’t want to even say what the word love means according to them. I don’t want to say the teitch of love according to them. They love nobody at all except themselves. The liberals don’t love anybody – it’s sheker v’chazav.

RAV MILLER MEANS BUSINESS!

But in this place, we mean business when we say love. When we say that we want to love our brothers, we mean it. We want to try at least. We’re going to actually try to love our fellow Jews!

And that little bit will be genuine, an ahavas Yisroel the way Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects from us. If we succeed in achieving even a little bit, that’s worth more than all the fakerei of the gentiles and the liberals.

And so it’s necessary to generate an attitude of love for your fellow Jews. It’s not easy, I know it’s not easy. Because there is always competition and rivalry and friction. It’s not a simple thing at all to really love your fellow Jews. Because people are interested only in themselves. And to train yourself to think about somebody else in terms of affection is a very difficult matter, something that is far away from people’s minds. That’s the plain truth. And therefore it’s a tremendous achievement if you would begin to actually concentrate on this function of learning how to love your fellow Jews, even those who are not relatives, and even those who are not our friends.

DON’T WASTE ANOTHER TISHA B’AV

And so, we’re going to have to train ourselves; we’re going to have to work with a program for ahavas Yisroel. Because no matter how many Tish’ah B’Avs go by, and no matter how many times you’ve heard speakers extolling the virtue of loving your fellow Jew, nothing will help. It must be done with a step by step program that, if taken seriously, will lead to success. And so we have to study how to do that. So the question is, how do you start working on that? How do you start working on this klal gadol batorah of ואהבת?

Ahh! The difficult subject of learning to love your neighbors! But it’s the one subject on which it pays to concentrate. And the way to begin is by looking for things in people that will cause you to like them. It’s easy to say, “Get along with people, you should love people.” But there has to be some motivation to do it. And the motivation is that every person has something, some reason, that makes him deserving of being loved. You’re not going to be able to love somebody in a vacuum. You have to seek some motivation that will make it easier to like people. This is a very important subject – how to motivate yourself to like this man, and this man, and that man, and that man. You’re  going to have to think about some good thing that will motivate this love. And if you’ll be willing to donate a minute or two of your time to think about a person, you’ll discover good qualities that will make it easier to love him. Absolutely.

HE GETS ON MY NERVES

Now, of course, if he’s friendly to you, if he’s m’chabeid you, if you get hana’ah from him, so you already like him. At least a little bit, you like him. But even so, you don’t love him to the degree that Hashem wants you to love him. You’re just scratching the surface. And what are you going to do with the overwhelming majority of Jews that do not do anything for you? It could be there are even some who get on your nerves. Them also you have to love! ואהבת לרעך doesn’t mean you should love your best friend. רעך doesn’t mean this man right here who is a good friend of yours. לרעך means all of them. All the frum Jews are your brothers, and Hakodosh Boruch Hu expects you to have a certain attitude towards them, the attitude of ahavah, a genuine affection.

I was once speaking to one of my great teachers in Europe. And he said that the way to work on this is to pick one man. One man!. תפסת מרובה לא תפסת – “If you take hold of too much at once, you won’t be able to do it.”  You can’t do it to everybody. You have to start out with a system, one step at a time, because to love all people, all of a sudden, is not real love. And it’s impossible too. So what you’re going to do is pick one Jew. And make up your mind that you’ll specialize on him.

And it should be someone who is easier to love. It shouldn’t be the worst man in the whole beis hamedrash, in the yeshiva. Pick someone who’s easy to love. A nice looking frum Jew, someone who’s friendly to you and make him the object of your practice.  It’ll be less of a nisayon; and start working on him. He doesn’t have to know – Don’t tell him! Don’t tell him anything!

YAAKOV AVINU WAS A PHILOSOPHER

And therefore, we must get busy finding ways and means to make steps forward in this project of loving your fellow man. We have to look, to search, for opportunities to love our fellow man. Even if it’s merely chitzoniyus, exteriority, Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants you to use it as a ladder toward being m’kayeim the mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew. I’ll explain that. You remember when Yaakov met Rochel for the first time? The Torah says ויאהב יעקב את רחל – “Yaakov loved Rochel” (Bereishis 29:18). Now to us it may seem queer. How does that fit in? Yaakov Avinu was a man advanced in years already. He was in his seventies. And Rochel was a young girl. So Yaakov had other ideas in his mind, how to serve Hashem, how to be close to Hashem. He was thinking about loving a young girl?! He had to get married; all right, he can’t help it, so he’ll get married and have children. But he loved her?!

Yes, he was very much in love with her! He was madly in love with her. He worked seven years for her, and then another seven years. ויעבוד יעקב ברחל שבע שנים ויהיו בעיניו כימים אחדים באהבתו אתה – “And Yaakov worked seven years for Rochel, and they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her” (Bereishis 29:20).

Now if the Torah tells us about this love, we have to study it. Do you think it was hevel v’rik that he loved Rochel? You think it was the love of the low filthy characters who sing about love on the radio?! You have to know that Yaakov Avinu was a great thinker, a philosopher, I’d call him. He had his own chochma, he was a gushing spring of wisdom, and he knew that it was the will of Hashem that he should love his wife. And therefore when he saw this girl whom he knew would be his wife, he made use of the fact of her great beauty to fall in love with her.

USE A LADDER TO LOVE OTHERS

And I’ll explain that more. When you have a friend whom you like, and you see that this friend has a nice clean face, or he has nice looking eyes, that causes you to like him even more. So you shouldn’t say, “No, I’m going to ignore his beauty; I’ll going to love him only because Hashem wants me to love a fellow Jew.” No; you should make use of any gashmiyus’dige love that you can have for him – “I love him. He looks so nice, my friend. He dresses so nicely, he always looks good. He even has a nice pair of glasses.” Even his glasses you can use as a ladder to climb up to a love of a fellow Jew. And by doing that you’re getting closer and closer to the feeling of achicha that Hashem wants from you.

And that’s what we are learning from Yaakov. Yaakov utilized the love of the choson for the kallah in order to come closer to perfection in ahavas Yisroel. Eventually, after they were married, he took all that love that he generated when he saw her the first time and he loved her intensely for the rest of his life more and more because he was only using that as ladder to come closer and closer to ואהבת לרעך כמוך, to come closer to how Hakodosh Boruch Hu wants him to think.of Rochel – because who is more of a rei’acha than a man’s wife! And in order to gain that, Yaakov used the gashmiyus love, and he thereby taught us how we should learn to love our fellow man.

DON’T BE FRUMMER THAN YAAKOV AVINU

And you don’t have to be any frummer than Yaakov Avinu. As much as you can, you should be using whatever you can to generate respect and affection and even love for a fellow Jew. Here’s a man who’s always dressed well, he looks good. He’s a good looking fellow, with a nice smile. Try to love him because of that. It’s not silly what I’m telling you now; you can even like a man because of the way he looks. Let’s say you look at a man and you like his necktie – he has a nice necktie. Now, a necktie is nothing. You can change neckties, you can buy a new necktie – it’s nothing. But you look at him and yes, you like him because of his necktie. Don’t tell that to somebody outside; they’ll think you banged your head. Who knows what they’ll think! But here we’re willing to say the things that others think is silly, as long as it brings us closer to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. His necktie looks good on him? Maybe you like the color of his hair? Maybe his eyes or his smile? It doesn’t matter what it is – anything that will stimulate your feelings of affection toward him, grab it and use it to love him more. It should cause you, it should stimulate you, to be more friendly to him.  And little by little it’ll enter into your heart and you’ll gain a certain warmth for that person. And that warmth, as little as it is, is a tremendous achievement. That’s why we came into this world.

EVERYONE IS A POMEGRANATE

Now, smiles and eye colors are valuable stimulants for this avodah, but the truth is that if you’ll try to think about a person’s middos tovos, you’ll be surprised that there isn’t a person who doesn’t have some good in him, some exceptional good in him. Among the shomrei Torah everyone has some good qualities. One of my rebbehs once spoke b’rabim and he said that a person is not one middah – a person is a bundle of middos. And you cannot form an opinion in general about a person, because in this middah he can be excellent, while somebody else might be excellent in a different middah. A person is a big bundle of character traits; he’s not just one thing.

So in case you can’t love the person entirely, you can learn to love at least one aspect of his personality. Let’s say he davens well. So love him for that. Love that man because he davens well. There’s a man who davens in our shul and I can tell you that I love that man for twenty years already. Just because of the way he stands shemonah esrei! Just because of that, I fell in love with him. Another person learns well. He comes to the shul to learn and he doesn’t waste any time talking. He opens his seforim and gets to work on the sugya. He doesn’t know, but I’m watching him every day, and I love him. Another person gives tzedaka. And another one is quiet and polite. Find what you can in each person. You’ll be surprised, you’ll be surprised! People are full of good things.

Here you have a neighbor, a quiet fellow. He doesn’t bother you, he doesn’t call the Buildings Department on you, so you don’t even think about him. That’s called ahavas Yisroel? You don’t hate him; that’s called loving your fellow Jew?! How could you live next door to a man for years – for years! – and not love him. You can love him just for that that he’s a quiet neighbor! He lent you his drill once?! Even better! You can love a man with an intense love for being an ish chesed if only you would put your mind to it.

THE BEAUTIFUL MIDDOS OF SIMPLE JEWS

The shomrei Torah, no question that they’re full of good things. They’re raising up families of children who will be oivdei Hashem. They’re upholding the batei knesses and the yeshivos with their money and their participation. They themselves are mikayeim mitzvos every day. There are so many reasons why you should love these people. Here’s a man who smiles at people! I love him for that! And another man knows how to speak to his wife. I see him on the street, always treating his wife with the utmost respect. It’s easy to love a man like that. And I do! I do!

Even the most simple Jew has many beautiful middos that should encourage your ahavas Yisroel. We come into contact with all kinds of people, and the way to love them all is by ignoring the bothersome things and instead finding the good that makes him easy to love. And the wise man concentrates on a person’s beautiful character traits and ignores the middos that are less appealing.

THE TZADIK NISTAR

Here’s a man, in our shul, a very nervous fellow. And he argues with people in the beis haknesses. He’s arguing with the people who sit on both sides of him. “You’re taking up too much space.” “You’re moving too close to me.” “Keep in your seat.” He pushes your siddur away; a very nervous fellow. And he looks like a nuisance, like a very big nuisance.

But if you would take a few minutes to think about him you’ll discover that he’s an idealist. The man comes every day on time to the beis haknesses. Every day! And he tries his best to support his family – it’s not easy making a living. And what’s he working for? He’s not lining his pockets. He’s working hard to pay schar limud, to raise his children b’derech hatorah and to support the yeshivos.

And if you talk to him privately you’ll see that there’s so much to love. I spoke with him and I was amazed to find out that this man was a fighter for yiddishkeit. He came from a home where there was no yiddishkeit and he forsook the ways of his family. He kept Torah and mitzvos all his life, by himself, against the wishes of his father and mother. It’s not easy to do such a thing. He was moired against his family to serve Hashem! I came to respect him greatly. I saw what a mistake I had made about him at first and I began to love this man.

It’s true, this fellow was a nuisance. He couldn’t get along with anybody on all sides of him. But when you come to know him, you see that he’s a very important personality. It’s easy to love him when you study the good in him. Just because he has a certain nature, he’s a fussy fellow, he doesn’t deserve to be loved?! That’s his nature; Hakodosh Boruch Hu made him that way. And despite those quirks, you have to recognize his ma’alos, and come to respect him. And after a while, if you’re willing to spend time on it, you’ll admire him; and then a certain love develops toward him. That’s a very big achievement! And you should know now that you’re living for a purpose if you train yourself to think that way.

CONCENTRATE ON THAT NUISANCE!

Now, if you’ll pick a nuisance, and concentrate on him, little by little you’ll discover that he has a lot of things that are easy to love. You’ll see that he’s a somebody after all; he has ma’alos, and you love him for that! And midah k’neged midah, Hakodosh Boruch Hu will love you too, despite the fact that you’re a nuisance. Hakodosh Boruch Hu will see that you also have good things in you.

It’s laboratory work. It takes time. But as you generate some love for him, little by little you’ll come to love him. You’ll actually begin to love one Jew! Mazel Tov! You did it. You’re forty years old and you finally love somebody besides for yourself.

And the girls too. The girls among themselves also. When you go to your girls’ school tomorrow, you pick one girl – don’t tell her anything – just think, “I want to be m’kayeim ואהבת לרעך and I’m going to work on loving this one girl.” Say it with your mouth, quietly, “Chanaleh, I love you.” You’re not going to school tomorrow; so בשעת הדחק you can think about your own mother, if you have nobody else to work on. Your father is also good. Somebody! You have to start somewhere!

Pick one man and dedicate to him two minutes a week. For two minutes a week, work on it, think about him. Think about all the ma’alos you could think of and you’ll be amazed at what it will accomplish for you. And in case you won’t go ahead and do it further, so at least once in your life you loved a fellow Jew – thirty years from now you’ll be able to look back and boast, “When I was younger I tried once to work on ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Yes, I worked on it once and I loved my fellow Jew.” And you’ll be exceptional because nobody else did it. Nobody else except for you did such a thing. They said the words but it never entered into their minds at all. They never thought about how to do it. But you at least tried.

LOVING OTHERS IS CONTAGIOUS

That’s how you get started. And once you love one Jew a little bit, it’ll spread to others too. Once you get started, you’ll learn how to do it, and you’ll be able to move on to loving the next one, and the next one and so and so on. But first you have to start with one, you have to work on one person. And don’t tire out. Don’t lose your grip on this avodah. Two minutes every week you can dedicate to this person. . And soon you’ll begin to understand what ahavas Yisroel really feels like.

And if you keep it up, then little by little, it will begin to spread. It’s contagious. Once you learn to love one Jew intensely, then maybe the other Jew also, why not? Once you’ve trained your mind to think lovingly towards another person besides yourself, you’ll see that it’ll spread. You’ll realize that you’re starting to look at people differently. And בדרך שאדם רוצה ללכת מוליכין אותו, Hashem will provide you the opportunities to keep loving the Am Yisroel.

RAV MILLER “USED TO” HAVE A SHAYCHUS TO MUSSAR

I did it once. Years ago when I used to work on mussar I did this. In Slabodka I was staying with a certain family, a simple Jew, a butcher. Plain ordinary people. I made it my business to fall in love with the family. Every day I would walk by myself in the woods thinking about how I could love the husband, how I could love the children, how I could love everybody in the family. I spent a lot of time thinking about them. And when I would walk into the home, I would say certain words to make them feel good, to make them happy. I would do whatever I could to help them. I davened for them every day! This was in the olden days, when I was in Slobodka and I still “had a shaychus” to mussar; so I worked diligently on the middah of loving them.

“He made a career out of Ahavas Yisroel He often related how he asked [his rebbi] Reb Isaac [Sher ztz”l] what one could do to develop a true love for all klal yisroel. His rebbi told him: Start with one ordinary Jew and dedicate yourself completely to his well being “until you develop a true love for him”. Then add a second person and a third, and so forth. Eventually, this will spread and create a true love for all Jews.

Rabbi Miller dedicated himself to a family in Slabodka – a butcher and his children. He said “in shamayim they will testify that I did everything possible to help them.” Forty years later, Rabbi Miller was still devoted to this family. He even donated a number of sets of Shas to the shul and other yeshivos in which he inscribed “L’iluy nishmas Yisrael ben Aryeh Eichenholz.” This was the butcher from Slabodka! He also dedicated his monumental work on Bereishis to [the butcher’s] memory.

From Rav Avigdor Miller: His Life and His Revolution [Rabbi Yaakov Hamburger, Judaica Press 2016]

THE PLURAL IN OUR PRAYERS

And if you want to grow, to expand your program, you’ll also daven for the Jew that you’re working on. And as you’re saying shemonah esrei, when you say רפאינו השם, heal us Hashem, you’ll notice that it’s plural. Now some people think that “Heal us” means “Heal me.” Why do we say us? You think it’s the majestic plural; the royal “We”. Like the King of England would send out in his proclamations: “We, the King of England.”  No! It doesn’t mean that. רפאינו means heal all of the Jewish people. Now, to think of all the Jews, that’s too much to think about. We can’t think of all the Jews. But at least this Jew who you’re working on, that you can do. When you say רפאינו, think about him. He should be healthy; he shouldn’t catch any colds, his children should be healthy. And little by little you’re being machnis love for him into your heart. And you’re on your way to greatness!

And why stop by Refa’einu? Is that all you’re willing to give to the man you love? If you love him, or even if you want to love him, you should pray for him Bareich Aleinu. He should make a good parnasa! He should get along with his boss! He should get a raise and still not have to pay any more taxes! Think about that! Wouldn’t you want that for a person you love?!

GO ALL OUT FOR HIM!

And don’t ever stop loving that man! Smile at him when you can. Say a few kind words to him. I don’t mean just a good morning. Show him that you love him. Ask him about his day, or his family. And you could go out of your way to do some favor for him. Pick up a piece of trash from his garden. If you’re loving him, you’ll keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity to help him. And whatever you can do, do. You’re becoming great! Because the more you think about what you love about him, and the more you daven for him and do things for him, the greater you’re growing in the yesod ha’yesodos of loving your fellow Jew.

It’s not a small thing you’re hearing tonight. It’s a career! But you have to be serious, of course. You have to not only hear it, you have to practice it. Even if you only do it a little bit, it’s a tremendous achievement. If you’ll think about it once a week, once a week for two minutes, on that one person – and don’t change, stick to the same person – until finally you develop a certain respect for him. And then, if you won’t give up, you develop a certain warmth for him, and then a certain love for that person! And now you know that you came into this world for a purpose, and you’re fulfilling the purpose of your life.

PROGRAM # 2: ONE MINUTE A DAY

And tonight, because we’re getting close to the end of the year, I want to offer you a second program to encourage ourselves to make a beginning on this great career of loving the Am Yisroel. Now, anyone who wishes can adopt this program for the coming year. Say “Bli neder, I’m going to join in this program” and you’re in. It costs no money to join and it’s easy to do once you get into the habit. And if you keep it up, you’re already on the road to greatness.

Every day spend one whole minute loving a certain Jew. For your first day, pick one person, and spend a full minute trying to generate, to stimulate, a feeling of love for him. Start with somebody who is easier to love and think about him for a full minute. Squeeze as much as you can into that minute. He’s a ish chesed. He’s raising a frum family. His wife cooked for your family when your wife had a baby. And so on and so on. And after that minute you should say, “I love him; I love Chaim Yankel.” Now, actually, you don’t love him yet, but say it anyhow. Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that you’re trying and that’s very important. And המחשבה נמשכת אחר הדיבור – the more you say it, the more you’ll actually feel it in your heart. You’ll actually begin feel a love for Chaim Yankel!

ONE JEW LEADS TO ANOTHER

And once you begin to take these steps forward, your mind will open up to a new vista of opportunities. You won’t find enough time in the day to think about all of the fellow Jews that you love! When you walk into the shul and you see a Yeshiva man learning, you’ll love that man. He’s your fellow brother in arms being moser nefesh for the service of Hashem. A mother is pushing a carriage down the street with a whole brood running alongside her. Her whole life is one big service of Hashem! What isn’t she doing to raise a family of oivdei Hashem’?! How can you not feel a gush of appreciation and love for a woman giving her life for Hakodosh Boruch Hu?!

Women should think about other women. Men should choose men. Now who should you start with? Maybe your rebbeh, or the rav of your kehillah. Those are good examples of who to start with. Don’t forget your parents. You have to work on loving your father. And the next day your mother. Your children too. It’s not a waste of time to love each one of your children for a minute a day.

HOW TO LOVE 365 JEWS A YEAR

Now if you’ll think about a different Jew every day of the year for one minute, so by next Rosh Chodesh Elul, you’ll have 365 Jews who were loved by you. 365 Jews who you love! That’s an achievement! It’s not all of the Am Yisroel, but it’s a beginning. If you do it for only a month, that’s a perfection too, but the one who wants to be great in the eyes of Hashem will start and never stop.

And if you keep it up for two years, and then three – why not, it can’t hurt – you’ll actually begin to love, at least a little bit, the whole Am Yisroel.  One minute a day! Today my neighbor, Chaim Yankel. Tomorrow my wife, the next day my chavrusa in the Kollel. And on and on, day after day. If you keep to it you’ll become great, greater than you could ever imagine.

THE SECRET OF AHAVAS YISROEL: HAKODOSH BORUCH HU

However, there is one more facet of this avodah that we should discuss before we finish. And that’s because there can be a very great error in this program of ahavas Yisroel. When you undertake this career of loving your fellow Jews – whether you’ll do it superficially or even more seriously – a very great error is lurking. Because what is a Jew after all? A Jew is nobody. He’s a human being; היום כאן ומחר בקבר, here today and gone tomorrow. He has to die someday; what’s so important about him? What are you loving after all?

And the answer is that there’s only one reason why a Jew is important. And that’s because Hashem loves him! You love him only because Hashem loves him! How much does Hashem love him? He loves him more than He loves the entire universe. The whole briyah is nothing compared to one Jew.

WE’RE DIFFERENT THAN THE ESKIMOS

And therefore, when we say that you have to love your fellow Jew, it’s very different than the Zulus loving the Zulus and the Eskimos loving the Eskimos. It’s very different than the patriotic bond that Americans feel with their fellow countrymen. Loving a fellow Jew is a different story; a different love altogether! Because when we talk about loving your fellow Jew, we’re talking about loving somebody whom Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves. You’re emulating the אוהב עמו ישראל. Now, that’s already a different story, a different type of love.

How different?  To understand how different you have to recognize how much Hakodosh Boruch Hu love each individual of the Am Yisroel. If you would ever love anybody in your life, really love him, it would be nothing compared to how much Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves you. Let’s say you would have a beautiful son – I saw it the other day, a man came to shul with his son, a beautiful boy. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He was beautiful. And he was bright and brilliant. We were learning a hard piece of gemara and that young boy was explaining it to his father – it was a pleasure to look at him. He picked up everything. His mouth was moving on greased hinges, explaining it so well. Such a son, how could you not love him? So nice looking he was. And well groomed too, by the way.

NOBODY COULD EXTINGUISH THIS FIRE

So let’s say you have such a son who you love with all your heart; you love nothing more in the world.And that is nothing compared to Hashem’s love for you. And who is “you”? You could be the most foolish fellow; a fellow with all faults. Ugly, slow-witted, nothing to love. No matter! Hashem loves that person with an intense and fiery love. מים רבים לא יוכלו לכבות את האהבה ונהרות לא ישטפוה – “Torrents of water will never extinguish that love that Hashem feels for our nation. That’s what Shir Hashirim says. The love of Hashem for a Jew is so intense that we can not even think of measuring the heat of that love that He has for each individual.

Now I’m far away from this myself. I’m saying this not for you; I’m listening to it myself as I’m saying it. Maybe a little bit will stick to me. But I let you listen along with me. Because at least we have to learn it. At least that. Because of the greatness of a fellow Jew, because of the overwhelming love that Hashem has for him, we are expected to realize that if we love a fellow Jew – even if you only love him a little bit – then we have acquired a merit that will give us reward and happiness in Olam Habah forever and ever.

OUTSIDE THEY’LL LAUGH AT THIS

Now, all this might seem little queer for those who don’t know their purpose in the world. So when go outside later and they’ll ask you, “What did Rabbi Miller speak about tonight?” So you’ll say, “He told us to love our fellow Jew.” They’ll laugh at you: “What’s the chiddush? Who doesn’t know that?!” But the truth is who does it?! Who thinks about it? If he loves, he loves; if not, what could he do already? He’s patur, he thinks. But no, we’re learning tonight that you have to work on loving the Am Yisroel, with an intense love. You have a big career ahead of you.

But once you do embark on this career, you are embarking on the most important commandment of the Torah, because when you love the Bnei Yisroel, you’re loving Hashem! Because that’s what He loves more than anything else in the world! Hakodosh Boruch Hu loves him a million times more than you do. And therefore, once you are trying to love the Am Yisroel you should know that you’re an oived Hashem. You’re a real oived Hashem!

HOW TO GET HASHEM TO LOVE YOU

Ahavas Yisroel is the big success of life. And that success is the biggest favor you can do for yourself. That’s the greatness of a man. You’re doing yourself the biggest favor when you learn to be an oheiv Yisroel because by loving your fellow Jews you’re really loving yourself. The biggest success is not what you do for other people; it’s what you achieve in the perfection of your own character. And the more you become an oheiv Yisroel, you’re gaining such perfection, such greatness, that you become tied up to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. You’re a partner with Him. Just like He loves the Am Yisroel, you’re standing at His side and together with Him you’re loving the Am Yisroel. And אין הקדוש ברוך הוא אוהב אלא מי שאוהב ישראל – Hakodosh Boruch Hu says, “I love you because I love only those who love My people” (Mesillas Yesharim Perek 19).