A Time for Ahavas Chinam

Is it possible to feel genuine ahavas Yisrael towards those who have wronged us? Is it realistic for us — on an individual and a communal level — to overcome the vehement disagreements and painful conflicts that divide us?

As we begin a Three Week mourning period during which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and reflect on the devastating consequences of baseless hatred, these are some of the questions in many minds.

There is a great deal of unity already present in Klal Yisrael. In shuls throughout the world, individuals affiliated with communities representing the full spectrum of Torah Jewry daven and learn together in perfect harmony. They may fiercely disagree on many issues, but as they join together to form a minyan or attend a shiur, all the barriers and divisions come down.

Then there are the role models, individuals who have gone to great extremes to forgive and forget past misdeeds of others in a fervent pursuit of shalom.

There is much more that must be done to emulate these heroes.

In virtually every conflict, both sides see themselves as the victims and accuse the other of wrongdoing. Each side is totally convinced that they are right and refuses to consider any other possibility. In many cases, both sides have erred. But even in those cases when one party is indeed an innocent victim of injustice, that doesn’t mean that one is permitted to engage in machlokes.

In his youth, Harav Avraham Chaim, zy”a, the Rav of Zlotchov, once asked the Rebbe Reb Shmelke of Nikolsberg how one fulfills the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha towards an individual who has done him harm.

“He answered in a way that I would accept it from him,” the Zlotchover Rav recalls in his sefer, Orach L’Chaim.

The Rebbe Reb Shmelke explained that on occasion, a man unwittingly deals himself a painful blow. Yet if a man to whom this occurred were to grab a stick and begin to strike his own hand, he would be deemed insane, for all that he is accomplishing is causing himself greater harm.

Adam Harishon’s neshamah encompassed the souls of all his descendants. The idea that all of Am Yisrael is “one” is a quite literal one: we are, in essence, a single soul, divided among a great many bodies. Therefore, when a man is harmed through the actions of another and decides to reply in kind, he would only be inflicting more harm on himself.

Instead, he should recognize that his fellow was merely a messenger from Hashem and the harm he had suffered had a purpose and was actually for his benefit.

Harav Avraham Chaim further asked the Rebbe Reb Shmelke, “When one sees a man committing evil against Hashem, how is it possible to love him?”

Once again, his Rebbe had a ready reply.

Within every neshamah there is an element of holiness, known as chelek Eloka mimaal, so one should have mercy on this elevated element of holiness caught within the net of impurity.

At the end of the sefer Ahavas Chessed, the Chofetz Chaim printed Marganisa Tava, a  small kuntros written by Harav Yehonasan Wolliner, zt”l. It contains 44 directives of mussar that the author put down to serve as a guide for his own avodas Hashem.

The 17th directive quotes the Maharam of Lublin: “As long as he had not received rebuke, it is forbidden to hate even a rasha gamur. For perhaps if he would have been properly rebuked, he would have changed his ways.”

Chazal tell us (Arachin 16b) that in the generation of those Amora’im there already wasn’t anyone capable of giving proper rebuke. The Marganisa Tava therefore concludes that in contemporary times one is prohibited from hating evildoers.

Even when we are obligated to protest against the policies and actions of others, we must do our utmost to separate a misguided person from his misdeeds.

The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam. Let us help rebuild it through ahavas chinam.