The Three Weeks — seeing the good in others
So, here are at the Three Weeks again and soon the nine days again. We go through the motions of mourning and pretending that we miss the Beit Mikdash (and maybe we want the 3rd Temple to restore God’s light in the World). So, we pretend to mourn, no meat for a week (what a disaster) and fast. The sad truth is that we do not even know what we are missing and even if we had the 3rd Temple would we really appreciate it and go back to Animal Sacrifices.
Times change, Judaism is changing. Those Jews in New York, London and other places are happy with Jewish Lifestyle stile living in their enclaves while seemingly obliviant to the fact that 85% of the brethren have little or no connection to Judaism. Not only that but the young Jews are so removed from the Judaism, that they support BDS and have no appreciation for Israel and unwittingly seek the destruction of the only Jewish state and haven of that minority of people of the Jews. How sad and sic.
Not only that Israel is alone ( I know that maybe we have the US may be watching our back at the moment), but just look at the opposition of the world to recognising Jerusalem as our capital).
In fact, this idea of the Jews being alone is not new: One of the most profound and influential comments ever made about Jewish destiny was made by the pagan prophet Bilaam:
As I see them from the mountain tops, Gaze on them from the heights, Behold it is a people that dwells alone, Not reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9)
Too many – Jews and non-Jews, admirers and critics alike – this has seemed to epitomise the Jewish situation: a people that stands outside history and the normal laws governing the fate of nations.
Reb Shlomo zt”l when introducing his song – “Gam Ki Eileich- though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear any evil, for You are with me,” (Psalm 23), with a lamentation and a cry, that Israel has no friends in the world. He said that this makes him sad but also happy because only good people befriend Israel.
Reb Shlomo continued singing and inspiring us with confidence, teaching that really we are not alone- “For You are with me.” Hashem is always our friend.
Hashem too is alone, so to speak. But really, He is not alone, because He has us, the Children of The Covenant- we are and always will be with Him. And one day, let it be soon, the whole world will be with Him.
So, my Jewish brother and sisters, we have to what to cry for. But crying is not enough we need to reach our fellow Jews – both on the right who happy with Jewish Lives and on the left who are ignorant of Judaism.
Unfortunately, Zionism is a dirty word. It should be noted that Zionism comes the word Zion which is Jerusalem. This is a tragedy. All Jews need to shout out for the sake of Zion and Jerusalem. We need to shout from the rooftops that Jerusalem is our eternal capital and the place where we direct our prayers and where we want to live.
This Sunday 21 July, the 17th of Tammuz (delayed by one of Shabbat), the second of the four annual fast days commemorating and mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. With this fast we begin the ‘three weeks’ of mourning; also known as בין המצרים – ‘between the narrows’. The Talmud tells us that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam’ — baseless hatred. We also learn that anyone who does not get to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in his days, it is as if it was destroyed in his days. What do we need to do to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash? Many holy Rabbis teach that since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of ‘sinat chinam’, it will be rebuilt out of ‘ahavat chinam’ — baseless love.
So, I want to to share some stories of Seeing the Good in Others (as related by Reb Sholom Brodt z”l )
It is told of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev that when he saw a wagon driver wearing tallis and tefillin, greasing the axles of his wagon wheels as he was reciting the morning prayers, he lifted his eyes to Hashem and exclaimed: “Master of the Universe, see how good Your children are – even in the middle of working, he is praying.”
Once I heard this anecdote from Reb Shlomo ztz”l. The students of the Baal Shem Tov once asked to show them someone from whom they can learn how to daaven [pray] and how to serve Hashem. The Baal shem Tov sent them to the market and told them to observe the apple vendor, especially as he daavens the Mincha prayer [afternoon service]. They found the apple vendor and watched him closely from a distance. It was early afternoon and the market was very quiet. All afternoon, he sat patiently at his stall waiting for some customers to come and buy his apples, but no one came. As the sun was beginning to set and it was already time to daaven Mincha, the customers suddenly began to show up and kept the vendor busy non-stop. Before one left, another came, and they so liked his apples. They talked with him, they bargained with him and they bought his apples. B”H he sold all his apples. It was well after sunset by the time that the last customer left- too late for Mincha. He looked up to the sky and realizing that he missed the Mincha prayer, he said, “Ribbono shel Olam, all afternoon I was waiting to daaven, I so much wanted to daaven, I feel so bad that I didn’t get to daaven Mincha and all I can offer You now is how broken I feel. I hope that tomorrow You will give me the opportunity to daaven properly.” The vendor then left the market and the Baal Shem Tov’s students returned to their holy Rebbe.
Reb Shlomo explained many times, “What do you see when you see a yid who isn’t daavening? Do you see him not daavening or do you see how much he really wants to daaven? Do you see how broken he is over not daavening? Do you see how much he really wants to connect with Hashem, but cannot or just doesn’t know how? Do you realize that whatever you see that is wrong in him, is also your problem? Are you able to speak lovingly with him, even though you have seen his faults?” What did the Baal Shem Tov want his students to learn from our apple vendor? He wanted them to see how a real yid feels when he didn’t daaven. He wanted them to realize that sometimes it may even be that such feelings are even higher than their daavening.
My father z”l every so often would recount something to us about his father ‘alav hashalom’. Being children of Holocaust survivors, most of the kids I went to school with never had the pleasure of having or knowing any of their grandparents. At least we would hear some stories from time to time. My father told us often about how poor my grandfather was. He was a real scholar in a city of scholars. At the end of every day he would give a class in Talmud for a couple of hours in their shul. Due to the poverty in the house, my father was obliged to start working at the age of fifteen. He would often get up very early in the morning to catch a train, even as early as 4:00 am, and sometimes even earlier. Yet, he told us that no matter how early he got up, he always found his father well awake, sitting and learning. On one occasion it happened that my grandfather had to finish his morning prayers quickly in order to receive a wagon-load of coal at the train station as it arrived, otherwise much of would be stolen. As he was folding his tallis, he let out a big sigh. It really hurt him that he could not finish his prayers with the proper kavvanah- [attentiveness]. The Rebbe heard his sigh and said to him, “Reb Abish, know that Hashem very well might have a lot more pleasure from your sigh than from your prayers.”
The Three Weeks and Seeing the Good in Others
During this period of mourning over the destruction of both the 1st and 2nd Beit Hamikdash every one of us is asked to make greater efforts to be better, to try harder and make everything a lot better; especially in all aspects of ‘ahavat Yisrael’- to love every single fellow Jew as you love yourself.
The Tzemmach Tzeddek explains: when it comes to yourself, though you are quite aware of your imperfections and transgressions, your self-love covers over these. Mostly, we don’t focus on our imperfections; our self-love, allows us to still think that we are pretty good, and hopefully maintain some hope that we will seriously attend to improving ourselves.
Now, should someone come along and focus on your imperfections, you would be quite upset. In highlighting them, your imperfections are as if declared as your defining ‘reality’- this is who you are, period. There is no recognition of your higher soul here, ‘chas v’shalom’! That is very painful.
Likewise, just as you hate this being done to you, when you see another with their imperfections, love them in the same way as you love yourself- find and focus on your love for them until you don’t arrest them into the narrowness of your eyes. Believe in their inner goodness and potential as you do (should) in your own. Believe that they can turn around and reconnect with their souls and fix their lives. Love them so much and you will help them. Affirm their higher self, bring them joy.
As Hillel said, “this is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary, go and study.” The entire Torah is about bringing Hashem’s Presence into this world- when you see your brother or sister with their faults, do as Hashem does for them, and for you. Hashem loves us and overlooks our faults- He doesn’t write us off, He desires and waits for our return. This is how you make Hashem’s Presence real in this world.
“And you shall love your fellow as yourself- you have to love yourself! If you don’t you will not be able to fulfill this mitzvah! How do you love yourself? You overlook your faults; you don’t stop believing that you are inherently good. But if you overlook only your own faults and focus on the faults of others- it’s a good idea to examine your self-love. Do you really love yourself? Which self are you in love with: your animal self or your Divine self? Which is your real self?
Reb Mendel Futterfass zt”l related a lesson he learned among his prison mates, in Siberia. Before you accuse someone else of foul smell, consider that it is likely your own stench that you are smelling. You are out touch with the beautiful fragrance of your soul.
Chevre, dearest souls, as Reb Shlomo would say, bless me please and I bless you back, please let’s be in touch with our souls, let’s get back in touch with each other and with Hashem. We are waiting for Moshiach; we want him now. Hashem help us love ourselves and one another.