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Home » Emor, Featured

Emor: Win Them With Love

Submitted by on May 3, 2009 – 4:23 amNo Comment | 1,199 views

The Problem

We live in an age of twenty-four hour news cycles. The need to fill the air with constant news serves to lower the journalistic bar. The media used to award at least a measure of privacy to public figures. That age is long gone; today outing a prominent politician or celebrity is a national sport. Passing themselves off as newscasters, town gossips write columns and go on air to publicize salacious tidbits to audiences that have no need for such information.

This malady is not constrained to the media. Sadly society at large is equally guilty. Our interest in this essay is the Jewish community in particular. We are a small people yet we are splintered into many tiny fragments. Each faction criticizes the next for faults real and perceived. One Jew criticizes the other for eating pork and the latter criticizes the former for dishonesty. Each faction plays to the others’ faults rather than its own strengths. (1)

Such criticism has never served to inspire; all it does is create distance between Jews. win them with love innerstreamYet we continue to do so with the argument that to “rebuke your fellow” is a Mitzvah. Rebuking our fellow is indeed a mitzvah, but putting our fellow down is not. Indeed there are ways to rebuke by lifting up. The question is: Are we big enough to do it? Are we big enough to win them with love?

Warn and Illuminate

“G-d said to Moses, speak to the priests… and tell them.” (2) Struck by the triple redundancy, said, speak and tell, our sages explained that “tell them” was part of the instruction. “Tell the elders to warn the younger ones.”(3)

Curious as to why our sages employed the unusual term warn them rather than the usual term, teach them the Chassidic Masters explained that the Hebrew word for warn them, lehazhir, also connotes illumination. In other words, don’t just rebuke or admonish their behavior; illuminate their soul by highlighting their strengths. In other words, win them with love. (4)

To explain how sin highlights our strengths we must first introduce the doctrine of The Great Test.

The Great Test

I am often asked why G-d tests certain people more severely than others. There are those who are born with strong predilections for greed or theft. There are others who are extremely vulnerable to anger or jealousy and yet others to depression, insecurity or fear. Then there are those who are not inclined by nature to any of the above. Living a moral lifestyle is relatively easy for this class. Why did they luck out and why are the others so severely tested?

On the principle that G-d does not test us in ways we cannot overcome (5) the Talmud posits, “He who is greater than his fellow is burdened with a greater [evil] inclination.” (6) Before G-d endows us with our genetic inclinations or temptations He endows us with the ability to overcome those very temptations. As such, those who are only mildly tempted have a limited capacity for overcoming temptation. Those who are sorely tempted are endowed with an overwhelming capacity for overcoming temptation. The greater the capacity, the greater then temptation. In this way the playing field is even. No one is given a greater test than the other; we are each tested in accordance with our abilities.

Regardless of genetic disposition our decisions to behave in particular ways are products of free choice. Regardless of how heavily we are inclined toward sin we have the capacity to battle those inclinations and overcome them. The greater the inclination, the greater is our ability to overcome them. To succumb to temptation, irrespective of its intensity, is to choose to not live up to our full capacity.

What We See

We now return to the notion of rebuking by illumination. When we watch a fellow committing a sin what are we seeing? Do we take note of the sin and unleash a scathing, but utterly ineffective, rebuke. Or do we take note of the terrible temptation that led up to the sin. (7)

Acknowledging our fellow’s terrible temptation highlights his/her strengths. As explained earlier, if they weren’t particularly strong in this area, they would not have been so sorely tested. Thus, our second option leads not to stinging rebuke, but to admiration and praise. Of course we don’t praise the sin, but our fellow’s natural, G-d given, ability to overcome it.

Imagine responding to your neighbor’s sin with a string of compliments about his/her incredible spiritual strengths. Tell them that their soul is greater than yours as indicated by the intensity of their temptations. Tell them how jealous you are of their soul and how much you would give to be born with their natural abilities. Rather than drive a wedge between your neighbor and yourself you would lay the groundwork for a wonderful relationship. You would win them with love.

Such words of praise will also achieve the very objective that the rebuker seeks, but cannot easily achieve; it will inspire your neighbors to improve their ways. When we, human beings, receive praise we naturally respond with is a desire to live up to the praise. Offering praise highlights the other’s natural abilities and brings out the best in them; it empowers them to overcome future temptation. Admonishment, by contrast, is not particularly inspiring or empowering; it highlights the other’s failures and reminds them of their worst moments.

Turn On The Light

It is counter intuitive to respond with praise for a sinner. Those moved to mentor others are usually inclined to point out the negative behavioral trends that their fellow must reverse. This is the more direct way, but it is also the least effective way. When a room is dark we simply turn on a light. When a person is filled with the darkness of sin there is no use trying to fight the darkness. It is much more effective to simply turn on a light.

As G-d instructed Moses; tell the priests to illuminate their young ones. Shine the light on their strengths and the inspiration to live up to the praise will naturally follow. (8)

Footnotes

  1. When you think about it each group has weaknesses
    and strengths. More often than not, the weakness of one group is the
    strength of the other. Rather than castigate each other we ought to
    recognize that we are in perfect synch; each positioned to teach the
    other our particular area of strength. Instead of recognizing this
    symbiosis we foolishly elect to throw words at each other.
  2. Leviticus 21: 1.
  3. Bab. Talmud, Yevamos: 114a.
  4. Sefer Hamamarim 5708: p. 240.
  5. Bamidbar Rabbah 12: 3.
  6. Bab. Talmud. Sukkah: 52a.
  7. There is yet another point: Our sages advocated
    that we never judge our fellow till we have stood in his place (Avos,
    3:4). In this context it means, till we have been tested as sorely as
    they. Rather than castigate them for their sin, we might empathize with
    their predicament. If we were tested as sorely as they who is to say we
    would have passed? (See Tanya ch. 31)That is in terms of not judging
    our fellow, but in terms of inspiring our fellow making excuses is not
    enough; we must look for the positive element and use it as a point of
    inspiration as described in the essay.
  8. This essay is based on Likutei Sichos XVII, p. 164.
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