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
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
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
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
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.