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Parshat Kedoshim (5771)

Three of the fifty one commandments found in this week's Torah section are found in one sentence:

They are: "Don't take revenge, don't bear a grudge against your people and love your friend like yourself, I am G-d." (19:17)

The prohibitions against revenge and bearing a grudge and the commandment of loving others are three separate commandments and not easy ones.

For instance; a few months ago my wife was at a friend's home when two of her children argued over some small toy. Finally the four year old snatched it away from his three year old brother and ran away. The three year old, left with nothing, yelled bitterly after him: "You just wait!! I'll get you back! YOU'LL PAY!!" At this point his mother stopped him and gently, but firmly reprimanded him that it was forbidden to say such things. "Forbidden?" her son asked incredulously. "Where does it say it's forbidden?" "Here in the Torah" she replied showing him the sentence just quoted.

The boy thought for a minute or so, and finally turned to his mother and said "You know, the Torah is really very difficult."

But on closer scrutiny these three commandments seem to be a bit redundant. Wouldn't it have been enough to just write 'Love your brother like yourself'?

Certainly if everyone had brotherly love there would be no place for grudges or revenge. Why does the Torah list all three? And why in the same sentence? Do they have a connection to one another?

To answer this here is a story from the Talmud (Taanit 20a) explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

One of the most outstanding personalities in the Talmud was the son of the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi, author of 'the Zohar' (whose grave in the city of Meron, Israel is visited by a half a million Jews on the date of his passing – Lag B'Omer) Rabbi Elazar Ben Shimon.

Rabbi Elazar's holiness and erudition were almost unmatched and many incredibly amazing stories are told about him. For instance, how after he died his wife, not wanting anyone to know of his passing, put his body in their attic. and for the next twenty years (not knowing that he was officially DEAD) people yelled their Torah problems and questions up the stairs and he actually yelled down the answers just as when he was alive! (Baba Metzia 84b)

But here is, in my eyes, an even more amazing story about him (Taanit 20a).

Once, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon was riding his donkey back home from a very long and successful learning session. He was in a very good mood until a strange looking man crossed his path and greeted him with 'hello'.

The Talmud tells us that this stranger was very ugly and Rabbi Elazar, rather than replying to the greeting or just ignoring it and continued on his way, was so disgusted with this man that he could not hold himself back and exclaimed.

"Ugh! You empty fool, how ugly can a person be! Is everyone from your area as ugly as you are?"

The man was insulted and shocked to his very essence! It took him a few seconds to recover but when he did he replied straight to the point, "I don't know. But if you have complaints about my looks then perhaps go to the craftsman that created me (i.e. G-d) and say 'how ugly is the vessel you made!"

At this point Rabbi Elazar, apparently realizing that he had gone too far, got off his donkey and asked the fellow to forgive him. But to no avail; the man flatly refused, turned his back and continued walking in a huff. So Rabbi Elazar followed him and asked again.

But the ugly fellow just kept walking and repeating the same answer over and over (with the Rabbi close behind), "I won't forgive you till you go to the craftsman that made me and say 'how ugly are the vessels you made'.

In fact this continued for quite a while; him walking and refusing with Rabbi Elazar at his heels begging and pleading until the fellow reached the gates of his home town.

When the populace of the town heard that the famous Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon was at their gates they rushed in masses to meet him only to be greeted by a strange sight; the great Rabbi Elazar was bizarrely groveling before a 'nobody' and begging his forgiveness. After hearing the entire story they took the fellow aside and finally prevailed upon him to forgive the Rabbi. The end.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Lekuti Sichot vol.15 pg. 125) points out, that if taken at face value this story apparently makes no sense at all. For several reasons:

First of all, what is so bad about being ugly? Why did the great Rabbi Elazar have to comment; why didn't he just reply hello and continue on his way?? Secondly, how could Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon stoop so low as to say such derogatory things to a complete stranger? Finally, why is this story in the Talmud; what is it trying to teach us?

The Rebbe answers, that in fact this story is really very deep and teaches us an essential lesson in and the secret of, brotherly love.

This stranger in the story was not just physically ugly; his external appearance was not what bothered Rabbi Elazar. Rather he was spiritually ugly. He was a person that had done many heinous sins against both G-d and man and he was ready to do more - his SOUL was ugly.

But Rabbi Elazar realized that G-d set up this 'chance' meeting in order to get this fellow to clean up his life and reveal his true core…. and that he was the only one who could get him to do it. But it demanded that he see through this veneer of evil and ugliness and reveal the man's core of good which called for 'Shock treatment'.

And it worked!

Rabbi Elazar's caustic comment caused the man to start talking about his CREATOR. Suddenly the fellow, for the first time in his life, realized he was G-d's creation! And not just an ordinary creation but the work of a CRAFTSMAN; carefully designed with a purpose and a goal!

And, even more, Rabbi Elazar caused him to repeat it over and over until finally it permeated his personality and changed him completely.

All because of brotherly love.

This explains our questions: Sometimes people are 'ugly' because their false egos prevent them from accepting the Creator's blessings.

But when their 'shell' of selfishness is broken and the true inside identity or 'soul' can be revealed then their entire personality can change.

Today we cannot do this in such a caustic way as Rabbi Elazar did; our times require much more understanding and revealed love. But this is the message of that Talmudic portion and of our Torah Portion.

When we meet up with difficult people, irritating people, even evil people, we should treat all this as their outside 'shell'. But their inside - their true soul - is pure good, and by Love it can be brought out.

This is the ONLY way that one can fulfill the commandment 'Love your fellow man as yourself."

That is why it is preceded by 'Don't take revenge or bear a grudge':

Because, revenge and grudges come from reacting to the external 'ugly shell' of others. That will get us caught up in a negative world where love is impossible.

Our job is to see through and 'break' this shell (not by yelling or making the people cry which only great masters can do properly, but rather) to treat it as a transparent covering that must be ignored in order to see ONLY the good that is underneath.

That is why Brotherly Love is called "The main principle of the Torah" (see Rashi here and Tanya chapt. 32) because the Torah gives the power to be connected to the essence and purpose of creation; the will of the Creator hidden within each and every person.

And this is the job of Moshiach; to strengthen the Torah, the Jewish people and Judaism by uniting them all in love and the true ONEness of the Creator. We just have to do all we can; one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales of existence and bring...

Moshiach NOW!

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