The Weekly Sedra – Parshas Kedoshim – Break It To Me Gently

Rabbi Yossi Kahanov Shliach to Jacksonville, FL

People misunderstand the meaning of tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean seeing someone harming himself and saying “live and let live.” That’s Indifference. Apathy.
If you see someone going the wrong way and you care about him, you’ll do everything you can to set him straight. Tolerance means that although you see his faults in all their ugliness naked before you, that doesn’t decrease by one iota your respect for him as a fellow human being, and for all the good he has within him…
Until you can see the good within a person, you are incapable of helping him.

– Tzvi Freeman, Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

In 1927, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch was arrested for his “counter-revolutionary” work to preserve Jewish life throughout the Soviet Union. The harrowing ordeal of imprisonment and torture at the hands of Stalin’s henchmen greatly weakened the Rebbe’s health, necessitating his treatment at various sanatoriums throughout Europe.

The following letter was written by the Rebbe to one of his sons-in-law in the winter of 1935 .

BH, Tuesday, 21 Adar II, 5695 [March 26th, 1935]
Purkesdorf Sanatorium, near Vienna

…Today I saw something which can be used to illustrate and explain a principle in the life’s work (avodah) of man. This caused me great pleasure.

A prevalent theme of Chassidic teaching is that man derives many elements of his service of his Creator from worldly models. The intellect and thought process of man, the human character, the natural phenomenon – all serve as examples to explain various aspects of man’s relationship with the Almighty.

Our master, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, taught that every single thing or event that a person sees or hears is an instruction and guide to his service of the Almighty.

This is what avodah is all about: to perceive and comprehend your path in the service of G-d that is implicit in everything you chance to experience and observe.

But there are incidents which do not necessitate extensive contemplation, which at first glance reveal their lesson in avodah. Today, such an incident came my way.

For some time now I have been observing the vigorous regimen that holds sway at the sanatorium. All revolves on one axis: that everything must be in accordance with the laws of medicine to yield the utmost results in the healing of the body. . .

Today the doctors came to administer a certain remedy, applied by injecting a healing drug with a needle.

I observed the extreme care the doctor and his assistant took in preparing for this: dressed all in white, they meticulously examined their clothes for cleanliness; then, they washed their hands twice and three times and checked their nails for the slightest trace of dirt; finally, they poured upon their fingertips – especially on their nails- a strong chemical which removes the slightest contamination.

When they finished these preparations, they scrubbed my legs with strong spirits and other chemicals which remove even the most insubstantial and invisible bit of dust. Twice and thrice they scrubbed. Seeing these extensive precautions I asked: “for what purpose are they scrubbing my legs, if but a short while ago I had bathed and my flesh was clean?”

The doctors replied: Nevertheless, it is an ironclad rule that before a needle penetrates living flesh, one must first wash the entire area with spirits which remove the slightest trace of dust. For were the minutest particle to enter the body together with the healing drug, G-d forbid, not only would the particle cancel the benefit of the medicine, but it could also cause many severe illnesses, G-d forbid.

The gathering of Chassidim to farbreng is comparable to the injection of a medicine into the body by the prick of a needle. In most instances, the speakers urge their fellows to improve their behavior, to schedule and keep set times for the study of Torah, and that their study should result in action and observance.

Now these demands, though they are made out of an inner love and with great affection, nevertheless, often come in the form of a pricking needle – much the same way that a needle containing medicine comes for a most positive end yet still must be accomplished by means of a prick.

Before the “stab”, in addition to insuring that the needle itself is perfectly clean, one must also cleanse the area of the injection. With the neglect of these pre-conditions, not only is the “remedy” rendered utterly useless, but one endangers the very life of the patient, G-d forbid. For so long as the dirt remains outside, it can be eliminated or, at least, swept away; but should it enter within, G-d forbid, it inflicts great damage.

A gathering of Chassidim – a Chassidic farbrengen – is a healing balm, a literal life saver, bringing unimaginable benefit. We have seen time and again how every Chassidic word penetrates to the innermost parts of the mind and heart, how every note of a Chassidic melody awakens the heart, brings it closer to goodness and cleaves it to the truth. But the healing medicines of a farbrengen come with a prick, that is, in a tone of rebuke. Therefore, great care must be taken that the instrument for penetrating the being of another be perfectly clean, and the “stab” be cleansed and sterilized of any taint of antagonism or self-interest.

Parshas Kidoshim (the second of this week’s double portion – the first being Acharei Mos) discusses some of the most basic standards of social co-existence – rules of common decency. “You shall not sand by idly while your brother’s blood is being shed . . . you shall not hate your brother in your heart . . . you shall not take revenge” (Leviticus 19: 16-18).

Our Sedra also commands us to reprove our fellow Jew – something that seemingly does not tend to foster the best of friendships and make for the most loving neighbors. Still the Torah’s idea of healthy coexistence obviously does not include the notion of “live and let live.”

In fact, the Mitzvah of reproof is juxtaposed to the warning not to stand by as your brother’s blood is spilled. Judaism, it appears, equates the spiritual distress of another human being with his physical distress. Just as one may not stand by while a fire endangers the life of a human being, so too he may not look on idly when a fellow Jew is in spiritual distress.

The above not withstanding the Torah dictates how one is to go about reproving his fellow. “You shall not hate your brother . . . Reprove you shall reprove him, and do not bear a sin upon him.” What does it mean “and do not bear a sin upon him?” The simple interpretation is that you shall not sin while admonishing him by embarrassing him publicly (see Rashi). The phraseology “do not bear a sin ‘upon him’”, however, seems to beg for a deeper interpretation.

Perhaps the meaning of “do not bear a sin upon him,” is referring to our frame of mind. We should not categorize the person as sinful. When reproving another person the Torah enjoins us to elevate him instead of merely thrusting the burden of his sin upon him – to see him for his true essence – his Nishamah, and help him to discover it as well.

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