Message from the Rabbi, May 2021

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On the evening of May 16th, we will celebrate Shavuot. From the second day of Pesach we started to say Sfirat Haomer, the counting of the Omer, as a preparation to Shavuot, when we accept the Torah.

Leading up to the receiving of the Torah, in Shemot 19:6 the verse tells us, “and you shall become for me a kingdom of priesthood and a holy nation”, גוי קדוש. Last week we had in Parashat Kedoshimקדושים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה׳ אלוהיכם,  that you should be holy, because God his holy.

Which of course leads to the question, how do we become a holy nation? What do we need to do to become holy?

In Vayikra 19:15 the Passuk tells us, בצדק תשפוט עמיתך, “do no wrong in your judging, but judge your fellow with righteousness”.

The Holy Baal Shem Tov tells us, if someone sees an evil person doing a sin or something wrong, we should always judge them Lekaf Zechut, in a manner of grace or positivity, that maybe they did not know it was a wrong thing to do, or that their Yetzer Harah, their evil spirit, got the better part of them. He adds that we should go into great lengths and make an effort to always try to see the good in other people. And why is that so important? The Baal Shem Tov tells us, that if we see something negative by someone else, that we also, have something in that bad behaviour that we ourselves did.

In many cases it doesn’t have to be that we did the exact same sin, but just something similar. Like the holy Zohar tells us, someone who gets angry is like worshiping idols, and so if we see someone worshiping idols, I could say to myself, I would never do such a sin. But then maybe I have a temper issue I have to deal with, or like the Talmud in Sota says, someone who is boasting is like they slept with a married woman and so on. We can see many sins have something that is similar to them. But if we see something negative in someone else, that we should check ourselves first, to see where have we gone wrong that these negative actions were shown to us.

Because the Baal Shem Tov continues and says, before someone is punished, they are shown the same bad behaviour by someone else, and our punishment will be based on our reaction to that other person, because in the end, we are the masters of our fate. If we say something bad in reaction to someone else, we are essentially only punishing ourselves, we get what we wish for others, the way we judge others.

The Baal Shem Tov finishes and says, the same way we are very compassioned about ourselves, the same way we know how to justify our actions when we are the ones doing it, the same way we have to be towards other. And that’s what we had in our Parasha, ואהבת לרעך כמוך, you should love your fellow as yourself, we have to strive to see the inner good part in every person, the pure core that is hidden inside all people. When right before receiving the Torah, the verse tells us that we should be a holy nation, and that is connected to the same idea.

Rabbi Akiva famously says in the Yerushalmi ואהבת לרעך כמוך זה כלל גדול בתורה, loving your fellow is the core idea of the Torah, this is a verse from our Parasha.

So now when we prepare for Shavuot, now when we ask ourselves, how can we become holy? This is the main idea we should take along with us from all this, see good in other people, judge them with the same grace that we would judge ourselves, so that we can truly be worthy of being holy.