Ki Seitzei – Kindness Consistently

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“’You shall love your fellow Jew as yourself’ (Vayikra 19:18). Said Rabbi Akiva: This is a great principle in the Torah” (Rashi based on a Sifra in Kedoshim 3:12).

The Sifsei Chachamim on this Rashi explains that within this mitzvah is the entire Torah, as Hillel said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole entire Torah and the rest is it’s explanation.” What do Rebbe Akiva and Hillel mean by their statements? Why is this pasuk so important that it is considered the central pasuk of the Torah and everything else is just a detailed explanation of this pasuk? (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Torah in this week’s portion of Ki Seitzei states in the first 3 pesukim of perek 22, “You may not observe your brother’s ox or his sheep lost and conceal yourself from them; you must surely return them to your brother. But if your brother is not near you or you do not know him, gather it into your house and let it stay with you until your brother seeks it, when you must return it to him. And so are you to do for his donkey, and so are you to do for his garment, and so are you to do for any lost object of your brother’s that is lost from him which you find, you may not conceal yourself.”
Rabbeinu Bachye explains that the Torah commands us to be vigilant with returning lost objects to their rightful owners. The Torah used a double language of השב תשיבם, that he should surely return the object, which Chazal say means even if it gets lost 100 times one must return it. These are the ways of kindness and mercy, to train our minds that we are one nation deserving of us having one father, each one desiring the good for another, and having pity on each other’s property. So, whether the lost object is an animal or an inanimate object, one is obligated to return it to its owner. That is what the pasuk mean when it says, “and so you shall do to his donkey” which is an animal but a non-kosher animal. Then it says, “And so you shall do with his garment,” even though it’s not as important as an animal. “And so, you shall do to any lost object of your friend” which is any other vessel even though it’s not as important as clothes (since it’s not used to cover yourself); still you can’t ignore it and must return it to him. And when it says, “You may not conceal yourself,” don’t understand it to just be referring to returning lost objects, but rather to other specific needs and all assistance one can give to his fellow. Such as to remove and push away any damage that can befall him, one is obligated in all this as the pasuk says, “And you should love your neighbor as yourself”. Chazal also learns from the words “And if you hide yourself from them” as well as the fact that it also writes “You shall not hide yourself from them.” How [does one resolve the contradiction]? An elderly person, where it is not respectful for him to be obligated in returning the object, the Torah says he may conceal himself, but other people may not conceal themselves. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Don’t most people like to and want to help one another? Isn’t it a natural feeling for people to want to help others and be nice to them? It is simply the right thing to do! What lesson is the Torah trying to send to us by saying we should return lost objects, and the progression of what kind of objects should be returned, which is anyways anything returnable? Why also does Rabbeinu Bachye connect this pasuk with any other help you can offer someone and emphasize that we should feel like one big happy family, responsible for each other? Indeed, why did he bring in the pasuk of “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

It is true that everyone would agree we should help each other; kindness is a basic tenant in life. However, Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that the Torah expects us to do it on a consistent basis. One shouldn’t feel like ‘I’ll do it when I am in the mood’ or make up other excuses for not helping others or returning what others have lost if they found it.

Rabbeinu Bachye is showing us the means of how to instill into our minds the feeling that we should always feel the need to help others and assist them in their needs, no matter what the circumstance. This is, by instilling in our minds the attitude that we are all children of one Father, Hashem. Just as siblings feel a personal obligation to take care of each other, we should also feel the same way about every Jew. There should be no excuse of what kind of object should be returned. One shouldn’t say to himself, ‘he won’t be missing this,’ or ‘it’s not as important as other things are,’ or ‘they are always replaceable.’ Rather, one should pick it up and find the owner anyways. You would want the same thing done for you if you were in the owner’s shoes.

 Of course, this applies to any issue a person has, any dilemma your fellow Jew gets into, one should always feel the need to help, and to help you feel that need, you should put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel? However, everything is within reason, and an elderly person isn’t expected to do as much as a younger person; therefore the Torah exempts the elderly from the mitzvah of returning lost objects.

Now we can understand why “Love your neighbor as yourself” is so important, and everything else is just detailed explanation. The reason is because this pasuk is what will propel a person to serve Hashem properly,  For example, what will help a person do a mitzvah between a man and his fellow like returning a lost object, lending money, hosting guests, visiting the sick, or any other kindness, is to think about themselves being in need of help; wouldn’t you want someone to help you, and to do it properly? But also regarding mitzvos between man and G-D, wouldn’t you want your child to listen to what you say, or any one for that matter, if you asked them to do something for you? If so, then you should do the same for Hashem, your Father and King, to do His will by fulfilling His Torah and mitzvos.

Creating motivations, like the pasuk “Love your neighbor as yourself,” to properly serve Hashem and do his will is very important for success in having a fulfilling life and everything else is just details of what exactly to do.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6, halacha 11, footnote 30

The Chofetz Chaim says there are many details defining what being concerned over lashon hara might mean which will be discussed in more detail in the last chapter, but the general rule is that you can take proper precautions to defend yourself or others but under no means are you allowed to take any actions against him, whether physically hurt the potential threat or disgrace and embarrass him in any way as long as it is unclarified.

The Chofetz Chaim brings down a responsa from the Mahari”k (chapter 188) which is a live illustration of going beyond being concerned. There a story a poor old Jew named Reb Aharon Ruskia who a woman spread rumors that he was adulterous with her and people ran him out of town by publicly embarrassing him and not even allowing him to get an aliyah in shul. When the Mahari”k heard about this he was furious and said it’s a great sin to believe this cursed woman! A person who embarrasses and denigrates a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, treating him lightly in your eyes, is considered disgusting in the “eyes” of Hashem and will be greatly punished! There is no worse embarrassment then what was done to Reb Aharon, the way he was treated by not giving him an aliyah. Furthermore, the Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b proves from the episode of King Dovid and Batsheva, when Doeg and Achitofel tried talking out and embarrassing King Dovid in public, that embarrassing someone in public is worse than adultery. For King Dovid said, even if I was adulterous (which he wasn’t) then that deserves the capital punishment of strangulation but still he would a get a share in the World to Come but one who embarrasses another in public has no share in the World to Come (if he doesn’t repent before he dies.) Therefore, you have to be very careful and thoroughly check out the matter before you come to conclusions that a person did a wrongdoing which deserves such severe punishment like public excommunication.

Being concerned for what you heard does not mean to be on the offensive and taking action against the would-be perpetrator, it only means to be on the defensive. One must be very carefully when telling others of a possible threat to be sure they will just listen and take precautions on the defensive because if you see they will go on the offensive then you cannot warn then since the whole reason you are allowed to warn then is because of the verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” just as you would not want any harm done to yourself then you should inform others who might be in harm’s way. However, if you know the people you will tell will go on the offensive and hurt or embarrass the would-be offender then why should his blood be any redder than their blood and the mitzvah of “Love your neighbor as yourself” will apply to the possible offender because he might be a threat to others, but they are definitely going to be a threat to him so it’s better. It to tell them anything.

Bottom line you can only be concerned about lashon hara you heard to be on the defensive but not to act on the offensive.

Kedoshim – It All Leads Back to the Same Source

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This week’s Food for Thought is dedicate in memory of a 4 year old boy,  Chizkiyahu Nachshon Meir ben Tzvi Ariel, who completed his mission in  life an succumbed to cancer on his birthday, Monday. He was buried in Tzfas by his parents, Reb Tzvi and Temima Eckhardt. Reb Tzvi used to be part of the CITE Chofetz Chaim Alumni Mussar Chabura, may we only share in simchas in the future! 

Now for some food for thought:

The duty of our heart is one of the main themes of this week’s Torah portion of Kedoshim. The portion begins: “Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your G-D” (Vayikra 19:2). A number of pesukim later, while discussing the fundamentals of interpersonal relationships, the Torah writes: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself, I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:17, 18).
The Ibn Ezra makes a fundamental observation into two of these pesukim. He says that the pasuk of “You shall not hate your brother” is the opposite of “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” He further says that behold, these mitzvos are implanted in one’s heart. By observing them we can stay settled in The Land of Israel, for as we know, it was because of baseless hatred the Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. The pasuk continues: “you shall reprove your fellow,” which the Ibn Ezra explains  the reason for reproof, is because maybe you suspect him of some wrongdoing, which didn’t happen. The Ibn Ezra concludes that this is the reason why the pasuk ends by saying: “and do not bear a sin because of him;” because there will be punishment on you for what you thought about him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the next pasuk the Ibn Ezra first points out that the explanations of “don’t take revenge” or “bear a grudge” can be found in Chaza”l (see Rashi on this pasuk.) Then he brings two definitions of “you shall love your fellow as yourself.” Many people say that the letter lamed in the pasuk is extra, like the “lamed” in “L’Avner” (Shmuel Beis 3:30), meaning, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ However the Ibn Ezra personally says: “I believe it is as it sounds as it is that one should love the good that comes to his friend just as if it happened to him.” And the reason the pasuk concludes “I am Hashem” is because “I am the one G-D, I created all of you.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Ibn Ezra is explaining to us a major rule in the Torah! The punishment for this sin, as we experienced, is destruction and exile. The positive and negative mitzvos he says are total opposites. If you read the Ibn Ezra’s commentary closely, he seems to be explaining that these two pesukim are explaining each mitzvah from beginning to end. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” refers to baseless hatred, which  happens if one is quick to judgement and dislikes a person for doing things, whether to that individual or in general, that are not good. One might feel he wants to take revenge for that wrongdoing or at least bear a grudge against him or her; but what he has a mitzvah to do,and is supposed to do is confront the person and question what happened, because perhaps the suspicion was inaccurate. On the other hand, many people say that the positive mitzvah is to love your fellow as yourself. You wouldn’t want people to suspect you of doing something you didn’t, and you certainly don’t want others to bear a grudge or, worse, take revenge upon you.

These opposite mitzvos make sense, but the Ibn Ezra says he has a different understanding of “Loving your fellow as yourself,” which is to love the good things that come to your fellow as if they were yours, the same way you would appreciate the good that happens to you. Meaning, the Ibn Ezra’s focus of loving your fellow is not on how to treat the person, but how to treat his possessions or good tidings. How does that fit with being the opposite of not hating your brother in your heart, which seems to be clearly talking about how not to treat the individual himself, rather than his possessions or good tidings? Why does the Ibn Ezra call them opposite mitzvos?
The Ibn Ezra seems to be tying the last part of the pasuk with the middle saying, that the means to appreciate the good that others have received is through introspection and the realization that you and him or her both come from the same source. The One Hashem created both of you. It would seem natural that if a person truly realizes and feels this bond and relationship with his fellow Jew, a commonality of sorts that we all come from the same source, then inherently we will care about our fellow Jew and his possessions or good tidings as if they are our very own.

On the other hand, the opposite could also happen. If we don’t imbibe the deep faith that we are all created from the same source, then we can come to view our fellow Jew as someone different, a stranger, and people inherently have a disconnect that leads to hatred for one’s fellow man. Ideally viewing ourselves from the same source will save us from this inner hatred but if the hatred seeps in the Torah gives us a solution to get rid of it by telling us to confront the individual and rebuke him or her. In this way it will resolve any issues or friction against him or her.

In fact we can now appreciate the severity of each mitzvah and why transgressing them can lead to destruction and exile; for observing the mitzvah of loving one’s fellow is living by the belief that we are all created from one G-D, and we have a mitzvah to feel and live that way amongst our fellow Jew. However, G-D forbid we don’t live our lives in that manner, then our feeling is a disconnect which is like we came from more than one source, chas vishalom, the polar opposite.

The Ibn Ezra sums it up nicely in the next pasuk which discusses the prohibition of crossbreeding animals: “And the reason to mention ‘You shall not crossbreed your livestock with different species,’ (Vayikra 19:19) is to warn us that after we are Holy, that we don’t do any corruption toward our fellow man, so to one should not change the way Hashem intended for animals to be made, and this is why that pasuk starts off with, ‘You shall observe My statutes,’ (verse 19).” Everything goes back to the source of Hashem is One with a plan and actions of how He created and expects the world to exist.