Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5761 - May 9, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The World is Just For Me

by Rabbi Moshe Young

You walk along a street, you sit in a bus. There are so many faces, some staring, others looking, some animated and others dull. Even by looking into their eyes, their thoughts defy scrutiny. No two faces look alike and no thoughts nor opinions match each other. One cannot peer into the mind of another person. This is the identity of man. This is why man was created as an individual, only one person, so that each person should be obliged to say "bishvili nivro ho'olom -- the world was created just for me."

"I, by myself, have this enormous responsibility to fulfill my purpose in life to make this world a better place."

It is one of the tragedies of the world that there is constant conflict among nations, and even within nations. Diplomacy is the art of saying the right thing even when you can look into another person's eyes and know that there are thoughts behind those eyes which could drive a wedge between you and him.

One wonders how I, as a Jew, can help towards making the world a civil place and one which projects harmony for all its inhabitants. Apart from being at the center of conflict in Eretz Yisroel, how do our actions and thoughts help towards removing other centers of conflict? There are tensions between Russia and Chechnya, India and Pakistan, turmoil in the Balkans, China and its neighbors, and tens of other centers of disturbance. In such an atmosphere of global tension, with anger, frustration and the desire to subdue and control others, how does "the world was created for me" help to understand the role of the individual in Klal Yisroel and as a citizen of the world?

The paradox which exists in the exclusiveness of the individual who is, at the same time, beholden to the rest of the world, accompanies the person throughout his lifetime. This is specifically highlighted in the responsibility of the Jew, who has to say, "ve'ohavto lerei'acho komocho," "you shall love your fellow Jew as yourself." The Ramban comments (Vayikro 19,18) that to love a person as oneself might appear an exaggeration because "a person cannot accept upon himself that he should love his fellow as he loves himself." Furthermore, according to the halocho, just the opposite is true. R. Akiva says (Bovo Metzia 62a), "Your life comes before someone else's life."

HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt'l, explains the statement of the Ramban as follows (Pachad Yitzchok, Shavuos, Ma'amar 21). HaRav Hutner says that there is a difference between recognizing the truth objectively and the inner subjective and intuitive feelings of a person. A person can be aware that there is a concept of truth, but it does not necessarily coincide with his senses and emotions. He knows that an idea is true, but he cannot grasp the reality of the truth.

To love a fellow Jew as oneself is an extension of the belief that "the world was created for me." Yet how can any one person say that the world was created just for him, if that person eventually leaves this world and makes room for someone else? The answer is, says HaRav Hutner, that had there been no sin of Odom Horishon, there would be no end to a person's life. Immortality would give all people the unity of purpose -- and all at the same time. Each person would supplement the other in the fulfillment of the purpose of man and everybody would be happy together. If this were the case, then every person would be sensitive to everyone else as much as they are to themselves. This would be a complete fulfillment of "love your fellow as yourself."

However, now that man has lost the concept of eternal life because of the sin of Odom Horishon, he must recognize the truth that it is important to "love your fellow Jew as yourself" even if his personal intuition cannot comprehend how this is possible. So one lives with the paradox of loving a fellow Jew as oneself and yet, as R. Akiva says, "your life comes before someone else's life."

The key to producing harmony lies in seeing the true importance of oneself. Simply to believe that one is important and to ignore one's own weaknesses is a false perception of importance. Such a feeling of importance emanates from a position of arrogance, gaavoh. Man was not created to lord it over others. When a person shows humility and is willing to bend towards others, and when he feels that other people's faults are always less than his, then such a person is a personification of chashivus. Paradoxically, at the same time, such a person does not see himself as important at all because he believes that he is merely doing his duty and what is required from Hashem.

When a person shows anger towards others and is unable to cope with offensive actions or insolent speech leveled against him without retaliating or at least restraining himself from retaliating, he is not an elevated person. He does not secure for himself the attribute of chashivus. Shlomo Hamelech says (Mishlei 14, 29), "He that is slow to anger is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of spirit, exalts folly." On this says the Maharal (Nesiv Haka'as, 1), that a person who has the ability to overlook the inappropriate actions of other people towards him and is not affected by them, has control over his own mind and therefore possesses great understanding. However, the one who becomes angry and is unable to prevent himself from being affected by someone else's behavior, thereby indicates that he lacks the wisdom to control himself.

For this reason, says the Maharal (ibid., 2), wise men or prophets lose some of their wisdom or prophecy should they become angry. A wise man's pure understanding of Torah or a prophet's clear vision of prophecy is tainted by anger. If they succumb to anger then they lose full control of themselves since they were affected by situations outside of them which should have left them unmoved. Reish Lokish says (Pesochim 66b) that we find that this happened with Moshe Rabbenu (Bamidbar 31, 14) and with Elisha (Melochim II 43, 15).

R. Akiva said that the Torah's requirement for every Jew to love his fellow Jew as himself is at the center of the essence of Torah: Zeh klal godol baTorah." He himself was the epitome of what he espoused. On one occasion when there was no rain in Eretz Yisroel and a fast was ordained, R' Eliezer was asked to stand up and pray for rain for the sake of Klal Yisroel. He uttered twenty four brochos, but was not answered. They then asked R. Akiva to pray. He uttered one statement, "Our Father, our King, we have no other King but you," and asked for mercy from Hashem that rain should fall. He was immediately answered and the rain came.

The gemora says (Taanis 26b) that a Bas Kol was heard to say that it was not because R. Akiva was greater than R. Eliezer, but R. Akiva was "ma'avir al middosov." R. Akiva was never offended nor angered by other people's inappropriate actions towards him and he never reacted. His tefillah to Hashem indicated his total subservience to Hashem and if he had been hurt in any way, it was the Will of Hashem and he had no claim against anyone. Rav Hutner zt'l, says that "ma'avir al middosov" is a form of great "mesiras nefesh."

R. Akiva was once traveling alone in a forest after being unable to find accommodation in a village for the night. He had with him a donkey, a rooster, and a lamp. The donkey and rooster were killed by wild animals and his lamp blew out. R. Akiva accepted Hashem's judgment. He learned later that the village where he sought accommodation had been overrun during the night by soldiers and he would have been killed together with the villagers or taken captive had he slept there. Even in the forest, the soldiers might have seen his lamp or heard his donkey and rooster.

Not only did R. Akiva acknowledge Hashem's protection over him, but he saw in the loss of his possessions, the judgment of Hashem. The Maharal explains that R. Akiva realized that in the judgment of Hashem he had been included with the village of which he had intended to be a part, so the loss of his three possessions were an atonement (a kapporoh) for himself in the same way as kapporos have an effect before Yom Kippur. The three possessions atoned for the three parts of the person: the seichel, the nefesh, and the guf. These parts were represented by the lamp, the rooster and the donkey, respectively. The chashivus of R. Akiva was in his ability to surrender himself, his possessions and everything which happened to him, both good and bad, to the will of Hashem.

It is, therefore, strange that R. Akiva's students had not followed in his way, and the honor and love which one ought to show to one's fellow Jew were not present among them. During the days of the Omer, the talmidim of R. Akiva died because they did not honor each other sufficiently (Yevomos 62b).

The Maharal explains that the greatness of a human being is his ability to speak. This is what distinguishes him from animals. After Hashem had breathed into Odom Horishon the "breath of life" he became a living being (Bereishis 2,7). "A living being" is translated by the Targum as "ruach memalelo" -- "the breath of speech."

The highest form of speech is speaking Torah. It is the ultimate essence of a Jew that he should speak words of Torah -- "vedibarto bom." If a person shows disrespect for the words of Torah uttered by another person, he makes that speech into nothing. There is no greater negation of the value of a person than undermining his Torah utterances which is the crown of speech.

This is what the pupils of Rabbi Akiva did to each other. Their punishment was that they died from a violent throat disorder, askero, where a person initially loses his ability to speak. This was the middo keneged middo.

Anger, says HaRav Dessler zt'l, (Michtav MeEliahu 4) is an outlet for one's frustrations. Even if a person shows anger by destroying his own property, he is allowing the frustration he has with others whom he might be unable to harm, to turn upon himself. This, as the gemora says (Shabbos 105a), is like idolatry. Just as idolatry excludes Hashem from one's beliefs and conduct, so does the need to manifest his anger on himself or on others signify that only he himself can control circumstances. He believes that unless he is in control of his own destiny, nothing will go the right way.

However, when a person sees that situations do not occur by mere coincidence, but there is Divine control over everything, there is a greater acceptance of events. Whilst there might still be great frustration when there is disturbance in one's life, the ability to balance this frustration with the Will of Hashem becomes a greater reality. At least it is on the way to real trust in Hashem.

Even with real and full trust in Hashem, there is still the concept that "things don't seem to be too good," and if chas vesholom a bad thing happens, there is the brocho of Dayan Ho'emes. As HaRav Hutner says (see above, Pachad Yitzchok Shavuos 21), before Moshiach we live in a subjective world and we are unable to see the true reality of all of Hashem's actions, so we have to make a distinction in brochos between Dayan Ho'emes and Hatov Vehameitiv. We have emunah but we are unable always to see the emes.

With the continuing turmoil and suffering that is happening among nations and with all their internal problems, the nations still have time to talk about Jews. There is always some simmering antisemitism even where countries are fighting for their lives. The Jew is never out of focus, particularly nowadays as the world is not much bigger than one small marketplace. It is in times like these that we need to feel more and more responsible to reinstate the chashivus ho'odom. The greater attention we pay to the feelings of others and the more we reduce our anger, the more we can show the world how we in our own communities practice ve'ohavto lerei'acho komocho." The Torah tells us how to value a person. Others need to copy.

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