"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Careful Love

Careful Love

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

In the Chabad world we talk so much about the importance of loving our fellow Jew, every Jew, that sometimes we forget that there are limits.

The Previous Rebbe writes:
We should invest as much energy as we can to have a positive impact on a Jew and revive his inner self. This should be accomplished by drawing him close. However, one should remember that this closeness requires great caution, so that one does not befriend him too much. For just as one influences the other person, so does the other person exert influence on him.

There are several levels [of influence that the other person exerts]. At first one feels pity for the other person, and this leads to finding a
limmud zechus [an attempt to judge favorably someone who appears to be acting unconscionably]. So it should be; one should find a limmud zechus for the other person’s actions. However, the other person should not know about it. Rather, one should do so in private. One should weep profusely and recite a chapter of Tehillim for him, and beg Hashem to have mercy on him.

This is the meaning of love for one’s fellow Jew: Every Jew should do [what is necessary to help] his good friend, but be careful not to become overly close with him until, with
Hashem’s help, the other person reaches a good, upright level, such that it is appropriate to befriend him.

Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 1, pp. 11-12.
In my own words: Although one should love every Jew ad mitzui hanefesh (“to the very core of life itself”—HaYom Yom 18 Av), this means that one should assist him and do him favors, and truly feel a deep bond with him as one’s brother and sister. However, it does not mean that it is appropriate to befriend every Jew equally. A truly close relationship is always two-way, with each member of the relationship having an impact on the other. Thus, if another Jew behaves inappropriately, one should keep a distance from him, because one is liable to be influenced.

Yet this does not mean that one may not have any contact with the one who is unfit for a close friendship; on the contrary, one should relate to every Jew with warmth and affection. However, one should be careful not to come close to him as one does to a friend who is ones equal, for then one is susceptible to being adversely affected.[1] Also, one expresses love for the Jew whom one fears may negatively influence him by pleading Hashem to have mercy on him and help guide him to Teshuvah (on this topic, see here). This is the true way to express love for this Jew.

Exactly how one puts this into practice needs to be determined in each case individually.


1. The reason that one should not tell the other person of one’s limmud zechus seems to be that he may regard it as an endorsement of his inappropriate behavior (on this topic, see here). However, when speaking to others, and to Hashem, one should seek a limmud zechus for the other person’s behavior.

2. This teaching conforms with the general principle taught in Chassidus that each middah (character trait) in Kedushah, holiness, always involves a balance with its opposite. Thus, Chessed, kindness, must be balanced and complemented by Gevurah, strictness (see here).

[1] Cf. Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuvah, 4:24
והמתחבר לרשע מפני שהוא לומד ממעשיו והן נרשמים בלבו הוא שאמר שלמה ורועה כסילים ירוע."

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