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There is a well-known chassidic story about a man who was intent on changing the world – so he went to his rebbe and asked for a berachah. The rebbe readily gave his blessing, but after a few months of frustration the man concluded that the task was beyond him.
He returned to the rebbe, who suggested he scale down his ambition. The man agreed and decided to concentrate on his community. But after a few weeks of trying, he came up against the same stone wall, so this time he decided to limit his efforts only to his family, but here too he failed.
Once again, he returned to the rebbe, who with a piercing gaze said, “Has it ever occurred to you that if you start changing, your family, your community, and, yes, even the world, will change?”
So how do we change ourselves? How do we avoid the pitfalls of the past, the odious sin of sinas chinam – unwarranted jealousy and hatred – that launched us into the bitter exile of Egypt and continues to afflict us in the darkness of our own exile? What must we do to be zocheh to merit the geulah sheleimah – the redemption of our people?
The generation that lost its way in the dark galus of Mitzrayim merited redemption so that they might come to Sinai and become one totally unified people. They were as one man with one heart. It was a magic moment but, tragically, that splendid, majestic unity has been painfully absent throughout the millennia.
Instead of comporting ourselves with ahavas Yisrael, too often we have behaved in a completely opposite manner, and as a result our nation has been splintered by bitter controversies, jealousies, and hatred. This toxic poison has been eating away at our people throughout the ages and is largely responsible for our first exile and for our contemporary familial and national catastrophes.
When animosity invades a family, communication all but ceases and in many instances the hatred can be so ugly that spouses and relatives take measures to have their nearest and dearest imprisoned. When husbands and wives fight, their hatred can become so intense that they become totally blinded to the deep and damaging scars they inflict on their children.
This same blindness prevails when, consumed by greed, siblings sue one another, all the while remaining oblivious to the pain and shame they inflict on their parents here or in Heaven above. Our sages teach that during the period of Chevlei Mashiach, chutzpah will abound and a man’s enemies will be among his own family. How well we know it. Alas, we are living it.
But how could this happen among Jews? And an even greater question: How can frumme Yidden, who supposedly are knowledgeable and well versed, be a part of this? Have we not suffered enough at the hands of the Hitlers of every generation? Why can’t we follow the teachings of our Torah and be forgiving and tolerant toward one other?
I hear the words of my dear, revered Tatty, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l. With tears in his eyes he would say in Yiddish, “After such a Holocaust, we have to embrace every Jew with love.” And every Yom Kippur he would come before his congregation with the same plea: “There are people among us who are not talking to their parents, to their brothers, to their sisters, to their relatives, neighbors and former friends. Today is Yom Kippur, and we cannot come before Hashem unless we forgive one another and do chesed for one another. But somehow we fail to absorb the message. Why?
Most Jewish Press readers are, Baruch Hashem, familiar with the early stories of our history – the jealousy and hatred of his brothers for Yosef that launched us into a long, dark exile. But it is one thing to intellectually understand and something else again to absorb that knowledge into our hearts. Not in vain does the Torah warn us: “And you shall know today and you shall absorb it into your heart.” There are just a few inches from the mind to the heart, but it is a gap that is very difficult to bridge. So a man may know something intellectually – but if his heart fails to comprehend, it’s all to no avail.
Thus, even though we know our history, and even though we know that sibling rivalry and hatred were at the root of our Egyptian enslavement, we have yet to internalize that lesson and place it in our hearts. The hatred that enveloped Yosef continues to fragmentize us. Its toxic fumes continue to infiltrate our homes. The distinguished and the learned, the simple and unschooled, the rich as well as the poor, have all fallen victim to it.
Since the Holocaust, we have witnessed a phenomenal and miraculous resurgence of Jewish life – the ba’al teshuvah movement, the proliferation of yeshivot, Torah study and observance of mitzvot – but this progress has yet to be paralleled by ahavas Yisrael and shalom bayis in our families. Why is that? And what can we do to once and for all neutralize this venom that continues to eat away at the moral fiber of our people?
To Be Continued