Monday, April 27, 2009


"Do not take revenge; do not bear a grudge; love your neighbor like yourself."
The Mitzvo of 'love your neighbor like yourself' is described by Rebbe Akiva as being a great principle in the Torah. Similarly, when a prospective convert asked Hillel HaZaken to sum up the Torah 'on one foot' he answered him with this Mitzvo, adding that the rest of the Torah is an explanation of it. The Ben Ish Chai writes that, given it's centrality to the Torah, a very significant part of this Mitzvo is overlooked by many people. He writes that whilst many people recognize how it requires a person to help his fellow in terms of his physical well-being, they are less aware that it also obliges him to help his fellow's spiritual health. Indeed he argues that helping his friend in the spiritual realm (ruchnius) is a far greater fulfillment of the Mitzvo than benefiting him in the physicalrealm(gashmius).
He explains: "When one helps his friend in a physical sense, he expresses his care for his friend's body, however, man's body merely consists of a combination of blood and flesh! The main aspect of a person is his G-dly aspect, his soul, and the soul gets no benefit from kindness in the physical sense. However, if one rebukes his fellow and prevents him from transgressing Hashem's Mitzvos, then he bestows a great kindness on his friend's soul, and love for one's fellow's spiritual side is far more important than love of his physical being." The Ben Ish Chai teaches that in order to most effectively fulfill the Mitvzo to love one's neighbor he cannot limit his kindness to the help in gashmius, rather he must strive to help his ruchnius to an even greater degree.
In this vein, the Orchos Tzadikim tells us that there are three main types of giving: Giving of one’s money; giving of one’s body and giving of one’s wisdom. He goes on to discuss all three but he ends the chapter focusing on the giving over of Torah to others: “One must be especially giving with his Torah wisdom; to teach all men knowledge and to draw their hearts to heaven. This is the greatest of all the types of giving - giving to another to bring him to the life of the World-to-Come.” Similarly the Meiri in Pirkei Avos states; “there is no kindness in the world that compares to the one who gives merit to the many.” Likewise, Rav Aharon Kotler writes: “The main kindness one can do for others is to give over to them Torah and Mitzvos and to distant them from the evil inclination. This is the greatest kindness in the world that one can do for another…”
There are a number of ways of helping others in the spiritual realm. The Ben Ish Chai mentioned the greatness of rebuking others, however, in this generation, it is very difficult to rebuke in the correct way and therefore there is the risk that rebuking can do more harm than good. A less threatening way of helping others spiritually is by sharing one's Torah with them; Indeed there are many sources in Chazal that indicate that teaching Torah is a fundamental part of each person's purpose in life: The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 23b says that one who learns and does not teach is like a myrtle tree in the desert. The Maharal explains that the myrtle is the most pleasant smelling tree and it is in the world for people to benefit from its pleasant smell. A myrtle that is in the desert does not fulfill its purpose because no-one can benefit from it. So too, Torah is there to be taught over to others and one who does not do so cannot fulfill his purpose in life. He writes: “The main aspect of the Torah is wisdom that by its very nature is there to teach others and if it is not taught over then it is a waste, because the essence of wisdom is to be given over to everyone.”
Similarly, the Mishna in Pirkei Avos states: “If you have learnt much Torah, ‘al tachzik tova’ to yourself, because that is why you were created.” The simple understanding of this Mishna is that a person should not be proud of his achievements in Talmud Torah because learning Torah is his purpose in life. However, many commentaries suggest a different explanation. They explain the Mishna to mean that if a person has learnt much Torah he should not keep its goodness for himself, rather he should teach it to others - why? Because his purpose in creation is to learn and teach.”
We have seen how giving over Torah is such a central aspect of the Mitzvo of 'love your neighbor'. Accordingly, Rav Wolbe zt”l believed that this message should be inculcated in our children from a young age. He said; “I think that we must teach this to youngsters already from the time that they enter into Yeshiva Katana. Immediately in the first year, we must say to them that they are intrinsically connected to Klal Yisroel, and that they are obligated to give over to Klal Yisroel all of the Torah that they will learn in Yeshiva Katana and Gedola. This is their job - not just to think about themselves. One must know that he must give over his Torah to Klal Yisroel.” Rav Wolbe is teaching us that even a person who is in a period of life where he predominantly focuses on his own learning must recognize that his ultimate intentions must be to share his learning with his fellow Jew. Why must this lesson be inculcated in our children from such a young age? Because if it is not, then one will accustom himself to being selfish, not just in this gashmius, but even in his ruchnius. The mida of selfishness is very hard to uproot, therefore Rav Wolbe insists that we implant an attitude of chesed in our children from a young age. However, this is clearly not just a lesson that we must teach our children through words, it is one that must be taught through example; we must develop our own trait of kindness and apply it to our own lives - if we begin to do this then we can fulfill the Mitzvo of 'love your neighbor' properly and strive to fulfill our purpose in life.

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