Thursday, May 12, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

This week’s parsha, Parshas Emor, recalls the familiar adage, “Acharei Mos Kedoshim Emor, [only] after a person dies does everyone call him 'holy.'”

When was the last time you heard a living person being praised unless it was at a dinner in their honor?

Maybe it is time we curbed our tendency to criticize people and practiced paying tribute to those who utilize their kochos for the welfare of the community.

Why do we tend to talk positively about people only after they are no longer with us? Why is it hard to compliment the living? If somehow people could hear the hespeidim delivered at their funerals while they are alive, they would not only live another ten years, they would live ten much happier years.

We are all familiar with special people in our own communities, a few examples of the many follow. Look at the wonderful work of the bikur cholim women. Consider the work of someone like Mrs. Miriam Lubling of Brooklyn and the immense help she gives sick people who come to New York from all over the world. She appears from out of nowhere and works tirelessly to provide assistance in finding doctors, setting up appointments and providing whatever help is needed. What motivates such a woman? Only the relentless will and insatiable desire to help people.

Ask anyone in Monsey who has been seriously ill or who is close to someone who has been through a medical crisis, about Shimshon Lauber. They will tell you he is a tzaddik, yet he walks the streets like everyone else and has to struggle to maintain his organization.

How many desperate people from around the world have been helped by Yossi Stern in Flatbush, who knocks himself out with one cause after another?

In the field of chinuch, as well, there are so many outstanding people who put their neshamos into their work, working around the clock to make a difference in others’ lives. Is there anyone who has done as much as Rabbi Yaakov Bender of Far Rockaway to raise the standards of education? What he has done for students and adults of all ages and levels is simply outstanding.

Did you ever hear of Rabbi Shamai Blobstein and what he does for teen-aged boys? Rabbi Refoel Wallerstein of Brooklyn is a one-man army keeping boys on the right track, while he stays in constant touch with his rebbi, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, for direction and inspiration to save even more Jewish youth from being wasted.

When is the last time these people and others like them received their due? There are so many more unsung heroes out there in our world. Yet, we lose sight of them, we forget they exist, and when they knock on our doors, we turn them away as if they are not glib and sophisticated. Instead of putting these individuals on a pedestal, we are forever poised to find fault. We feed off of scandal; without a new piece of gossip, people are disgruntled. They don’t have enough to talk about.

We can have a rosh yeshiva who is a boki in kol haTorah kulah, sits and learns yomam valaylah and doesn’t venture out of his Beis Medrash, yet his opinions are belittled and he doesn’t receive the respect he has earned because he is a nechboh el hakeilim.

American kollel yungeleit and their families are moser nefesh to live lives of Torah. Yet, were a nondescript yeshiva- mahn to knock on our door saying he needs money to put bread on the table to feed his family, what response is he likely to get?

Why is it that we are drawn to the glamour and the glitz and lose sight of what it is all about?

The world exists on Torah, Avodah and Gemilus Chassodim; why is it so difficult to get past the external packaging and give credit to the people who keep the world going?

Of course, no one is perfect. Yes, there is always room for improvement, but perhaps if we would befriend and help people who seek to do good, they would be able to do so much more.

If people would rally to others’ assistance while they are alive, perhaps it would become more popular to do good, and the heroes in our midst would be able to accomplish so much more.

There really are many good people out there. Indeed, most of the people in our community are basically good and kind, but we lose sight of this fact because our discourse is too often preoccupied with tales of wrongdoing and machlokes.

In these days of Sefirah, it is not enough to refrain from listening to music and cutting our hair. We have to also hear the message of Sefirah and remember why it is that this period has become marked by the restrictions and symbols of mourning.

In last week’s parsha, Parshas Kedoshim, we encountered the mitzvah of ve’ohavtah lerei’acha komochah which exhorts us to love our friends as much as we love ourselves. We are all so familiar with that mitzvah and adage that we take it for granted, without giving it a second thought.

The Ramban offers an incisive insight into this mitzvah. He holds that the word komocha, like yourself, is not meant to be taken literally, for the rule is chayecha kodmim - ultimately, your own life takes precedence over that of your friend. When the chips are down, a person’s foremost obligation is to preserve his own life before anyone else’s.

The Ramban explains that the mitzvah is to be as deeply, truly happy for the good fortune that befalls your friend as you would be if you were the one blessed. If your friend wins the lottery, be as happy for him as if you had won. If your friend buys a fancy new car, don’t be jealous of him. Instead, imagine how thrilled you would be if you were in his shoes, and rejoice just as much for your friend.

The Ramban’s concept of ve’ohavtah lerei’acha komochah may be more difficult to observe than the traditional application of this mitzvah.

Love is a word we throw around loosely, without thinking of its ramifications. We all like to think that we love our friends, but if our friend were to achieve fame and fortune, would we be consumed with love or would jealousy begin setting in?

The Ramban admonishes that it is not sufficient to just love every Jew; we also have to be happy for them and treat them as we would want to be treated by others.

It may not be easy to love everyone that we are bidden to love; it may take all our inner strength to be happy for everyone else’s success as we wait for triumph to come our way, but that is what the Torah expects of us, nonetheless.

One thing is certain: By using this intermediate period between Pesach and Shavuos to delve deeper into the teachings of our sages, to study Pirkei Avos and our own personal failings, we will find we have less difficulty observing the commandment of ve’ohavtah lerei’acha komochah.

Learning Pirkei Avos and listening to the message of Sefirah will also help us tune out all the static and find the abundance of good surrounding us. Our task it to highlight it and bring more of it into our lives.

Let’s not wait for Acharei-Mos for Kedoshim Emor.


Post a Comment

<< Home