פרשת דברים| PDF
In this week’s Parsha we read of Hashem warning the בני ישראל as they passed by the land of Eisav, “When you are passing by the border of your brothers the sons of Eisav…Do not trouble them…” Here Hashem refers to the descendants of Eisav as our “brothers” and we find the same thing a few פסוקים further on: “And we passed by our brothers, the sons of Eisav…”
In these פסוקים Hashem stresses the importance of this kinship, even after more than two-hundred years of total separation. And not only is this attitude incumbent upon the Holy Nation of Israel, but even the Edomites themselves are blamed for forgetting the bond of brotherhood: “Because Edom pursued his brother [the בני ישראל] with the sword” (Amos 1:11). Although hundreds of years had elapsed since they had parted from the seed of Avraham, Hashem still maintained His memory of the kinship and He continued to protect the privilege of our relationship with them. At this great moment in our history, as we prepared to enter into Eretz Yisroel, Hashem expected us to still feel this kinship of brotherhood, and to act upon it, by treating the בני עשיו with care and respect.
Now, pay attention: If such is the obligation of brotherhood between the long-separated offspring of the two estranged brothers, then how much more so is the obligation of brotherhood between the בני ישראל. We are not separated, nor estranged from one another. We, the בני ישראל, all live in this world, together, as a single unit, for one purpose only – to serve Hashem, our Father. And 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. 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. If towards an Edomites, the descendents 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?! 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.
The first, and most important foundation of אחיך, is an understanding of what it is that binds us in this bond of brotherhood. And like I mentioned earlier, we are expected to feel this emotion of אחיך because we are all dedicated to the one, and only one, ideal of serving Hashem. Chazal tell us that אחיך means אחיך במצוות, “your brother in mitzvos.” A Jew who keeps the mitzvos is your brother. Even though we all have our differences and our own lives, there always remains this glue of service of Hashem that bind us together in this kinship of brotherhood.
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. What matters is that we share a common purpose, the service of Hashem. Think about it; Every Jew, wherever he may be, I don’t care if he’s Sefardi or Ashkenazi, he’ll be 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 אחוה knowing that around the world, his fellow Jews are all unified in serving Hashem? And that is what binds us together as אחים, brothers.
Now, it is not enough to just listen to these words. It means nothing, nothing at all, unless you internalize this idea. Every Rabbi who wants to draw a crowd, who wants to get new members for his synagogue, will get up and speak about אהבת ישראל. Oh yes! Love all your fellow Jews. Love everybody! But to just say that, in order to “patur” yourself is not enough. The only way to even begin working on this detail of serving Hashem, is by putting effort into this עבודה. And the first step is recognizing what it is that is binding us together as brothers – it derives directly from our obligation to serve Hashem, and our fulfilling of this obligation.
However, even this important understanding of what it is that creates our kinship is not enough on its own. It has to become למעשה. You have to stop with the empty slogans of loving everybody. You have to get to work on it. I’ll share with you some practical advice that I heard from my great Rebbe in Slabodka. He said that I should start with one person. “Begin slowly,” he said. Choose one person – and choose a nice fellow so it will be easier. Now, put some time and some thought into his מעלות, his good qualities. Everyone has good qualities, only that we don’t stop to think about them. So you’re going to have to make that effort. You can make a list – write his name down on the top of a piece of paper, and then begin filling up the page with his good qualities. That’s what I did. I have a notebook and I was able to create lists and lists of good qualities of people that I know. And slowly you will begin to love your fellow Jews. Here you have a neighbor, who serves Hashem, he’s אחיך במצוות, and he’s full of wonderful qualities. Of course you should fall in love with him. And if you don’t, it’s only because you haven’t begun to work on it. So get started. And that fellow Jew will be the first אחיך that you begin to love.
Now, don’t stop after that first person. That’s only the beginning. You’ve only started out on this road of אחיך. Now you’ll choose another Jew. And you’ll do the same thing. And another, and another. I know that most of you will hear this and appreciate the idea – but you’ll never do it! And therefore, you won’t be the success that you’re capable of. So don’t push it off. It’s not so difficult once you get started. A minute or two a day of writing down the מעלות, the good qualities, of those you know will soon add up. You’ll have one page for this neighbor and another page for that neighbor. And a page for you co-worker and for your uncle. And soon you’ll have a notebook full of brothers whom you love. And then you’ve successfully embarked on the career of loving your fellow Jews.
And I’ll give you another small piece of advice. Use your mouth, your power of speech, to catalyze your feelings. When you see your neighbor in Shul davening, you should say – say it quietly under your breath so people shouldn’t think you’ve gone meshuga – say “I love that Jew. He’s my brother. He’s here for the same purpose as me, to serve Hashem. And I love him for that.” The more you speak, the more you express yourself, the more you’ll change yourself. המחשבה נמשכת אחר הדיבור. Your thoughts and your feelings will be affected by your speech. The more you speak out these words of affection for your אחיך במצוות, your brother in mitzvos, the more you will actually love your brother in mitzvos.
And so, the word אחיך in the Torah is much more significant than at first glance. As the עם ישראל made their way past the land of Edom into Eretz Yisroel, Hashem taught them how one should feel and act when confronted with the familial ties of brotherhood. But that was only a hint and a הקדמה, a preparatory lesson, for what the word אחיך means when Hashem is referring to our fellow Jews. Our bond of brotherhood, being a bond of selfless dedication to a single ideal, is one that is an important foundation for all of our interactions with one another. The loyalty and love that we are expected to feel for one another is founded on this word אחיך which teaches us the proper emotions that one is expected to develop in his relations and interactions with his fellow Jews. And although it will take some effort and a bit of time, there is no better time of the year than now to begin working on actually appreciating and loving our fellow עובדי ה׳. And the rewards are infinite.