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Home » B'Ha'alotcha, Family Life, Questions of Ethics

Behaaloscha: Love Your Fellow

Submitted by on May 19, 2013 – 1:58 amNo Comment | 3,861 views

When Your Brother Does Wrong

Several weeks ago, on Shabbat afternoon, we had a fascinating discussion. How should we respond when we learn through the media that our fellow Jew has behaved improperly or even immorally? Should we jump to condemn and separate ourselves from the crime lest it reflect badly on the entire community or should we respond with love as the Torah commands, Love your Fellow Jew?

The question is how would we respond to our own brother’s crime? Would we rush to report it to the police or would we cover it up so long as we could? The right answer is of course to report him, but just the same we should want to protect him. The law demands and society requires that we report the crime, but our hearts must object as we report it. If I don’t report, what kind of human am I? If I don’t cry out in pain as I report it, what kind of sibling am I?

All too often we react with instant condemnation upon hearing the allegation of a fellow Jew’s crime. Our justification is that we must not give our critics an opening to paint all Jews with the same brush. Yet, we are so quick to condemn that we don’t pause to ascertain that the allegation is proven correct and we neglect to highlight the points of defense to which our fellow is entitled.

We might claim that we do so for good reason, but the litmus test is how we feel in our hearts. Do we love the fellow Jew we condemn or could we care less if he spends a lifetime in jail? Do we feel pain as we are forced to denounce his actions or do we do so with equanimity and even a bit of self righteousness? Have we dragged him down because we had no choice or are did we do it to pull ourselves up and make us look good by comparison?

Love Your Fellow

The Torah’s commandment to love our fellow requires at the very least that we shed hot tears when we are forced to condemn one another. It requires that we do so with reluctance and only in extreme cases where it is absolutely necessary. It also requires that once we have condemned them we treat them as siblings by reaching out to help them in any way we can.

But that is hardly all this commandment requires. Love your fellow Jew requires that we feel as if we are condemning ourselves. This is the height of irony. Our only reason to condemn in public is to disassociate ourselves from the crime and avoid being painted by the same criminal brush, yet internally we must take responsibility for our fellow’s crimes.

How could a fellow Jew have stooped so low without us noticing his slow, but steady decline? Even if we don’t know the sinner in question we must still feel responsible. If we had expressed our true love for the Jews we do know, it would surely have inspired them to express their true love for the Jews they know, who in turn would continue to pay it forward. If it is true that all of society was once separated by six degrees, the advent of the internet and social media has brought us even closer. There is no question that our positive influence among our friends would eventually have reached the Jew in question. love your fellow - innerstreamCan we really say with honesty that we treat all the Jews we know with genuine love and that we are concerned about their worries and fears? If the answer is no, we are somewhat responsible.

One Piece

Furthermore, from the Torah we learn that we, the entire Jewish nation, are a single unit. If one piece is defective the entire unit is affected. Just as the arm cannot claim to be unaffected by the leg’s illness and the leg cannot claim to be unaffected by the arm’s amputation so can no Jew remain untarnished by a fellow’s sin nor can we claim to be unaffected by the condemnation of our fellow. We are one body.

We learn this from the Torah’s description of the Menorah, the candelabra in the ancient Temple. The Torah says,” This was the form of the menorah: hammered work of gold, from its base to its flower it was hammered work.”[1] The Menorah was a single piece of gold, hammered into forty-nine parts. There were cups, flowers, buttons and branches. Each was distinct from the other, but they were all of a piece.

From the base to the flower they were one. The base is at the bottom, the flowers were (among other places) at the top. The base represents the lay Jew and the flowers represent the scholarly, pious and righteous Jew. Further, the Hebrew for flower, Perach, has the same etymological root as the Hebrew word for soaring, Poreach. The Holy Jew’s rituals are performed with such passion and enthusiasm that they soar heavenward and touch the Divine. You would think this kind of Jew has little in common with the basic Jew at the very bottom, yet the Torah tells us, they are of a single piece.

Love your fellow Jew doesn’t just require us to love another, but to feel that this other is part of ourselves. We are not so far removed from each other as to remain unaffected by the other’s pain and untarnished by the other’s guilt. If your limb is hurting, you are hurting and you include the totality of your body. Sometimes the legs run and trip, causing the arm to break. You cannot separate one Jew from another just as you cannot separate one limb from another.

Strengths and Weaknesses

There is yet another insight to be gleaned from the analogy to a body. Just as a body requires legs, arms, a torso and a head, so does the Jewish nation require Jews on a variety of levels. There are base Jews and flower Jews, but the Menorah requires both. Without a base we cannot stand and without a flower there is nothing of significance to hold up.

We cannot condemn another for not being as good as we are without sensing that we are not as good as they are. They excel at their task just as we excel at ours. If a fellow Jew is the lay person, he or she excels at being the base for the entire community. If you are the lofty soul, you excel at being the flower of the community. But before you condemn the base for not being a flower, remember that without the base you too would have no standing. Your flower rests on the foundation of his or her base.

One Circle

Let us take one last look at the description of the Menorah for a final insight. “This was the form of the menorah: hammered work of gold, from its base to its flower it was hammered work.” Do you notice the redundancy of the final words, “hammered work?” It has already been stated, why is it repeated?

The first mention of the Menorah being of hammered work reminds us that we are separate limbs of a single body and that we require and depend on each other as we have discussed till this point. The second mention of being hammered from a single piece takes us to a much deeper level.

At this point the Torah wants us to recall that before we became separate parts we were a single ball of gold. Before we became separate limbs we were a single embryo. Just as the same life force that animates the arm flows through the leg so is part of me in you and part of you in me.  When I see a fault in you, I cannot know that it was not originally my fault that got sidetracked into you. By the same token if I see strength in me I cannot know that it was not originally your strength that somehow made its way into me. If we are one, a single organism, then we share the same vitality and character. I am part of you and you are part of me. We were hammered of one piece, one part went up, the other part went down, but what went up and what went down is the same piece.

With this mindset it is nearly impossible to condemn another without feeling that we are condemning ourselves. Sometimes circumstances require our condemnation of another, but it should be as traumatic as confessing our own sin and condemning our own behavior.

That is love. It is what G-d asked of us when He instructed us to Love our Fellow Jew.[2]

[1] Numbers4:8.

[2] This essay is based on Likutei Torah Behaalotcha p.32 and Sefer Mamarim 5730 p. 247

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