Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ahavat Chinam - yay yay yay!

Well, now that we know that a lack of hakarat hatov/gratitute leads to jealousy, which leads to hate, we know the basis of sinat chinam.
Many people probably heard of Ahavat Chinam already, but how many of us actually know what this means?

We are taught that one way to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash is Ahavat Chinam, which is baseless love. But what does baseless love mean? How can we practice it on the daily basis? Afterall, it's not every day that we see an old lady with groceries who needs help crossing the road. It's not every day that we help a kid who is lost at the mall. It's not every day that we need to rescue a drowning victim.
The beatles and hippies in the 1960s also thought they have baseless love. Loving everyone regardless of actions, beliefs, etc.
But they didn't bring Mashiach. In fact, they brought a lot of evil into the world with so much liberalism and "freedom", but that is a different discussion.
So what is Ahavat Chinam and how can we fufill that mitzvah on a daily basis?

Here're two VERY practical daily implications to increase ahavat chinam in Am Yisrael:
1. Increase Your Hakarat Hatov:
we say "modeh ani" to G-d every single morning that we wake up and have a new opportunity to experience life and fulfill our potential.
But G-d is not the only One that we need to give hakarat hatov to.
Every single person, regardless of his or her upbringing and situation, owes hakarat hatov to their Parents. Many people mistakenly assume that they don't owe their parents any respect if their parents haven't brought them up correctly. But to think like that is completely anti-ethical to what the Torah teaches us.
The Shulchan Aruch codifies it as halacha that every individual must respect his or her parents. The Shulchan Aruch gives an example of a parent who hits his child, yells at his child, and embarrasses his child (note: child doesn't mean a minor. A person is his parent's child even if he is 50 years old!)
What a terrible thing, lo aleinu. And yet, as terrible as that situation is, the Shulchan Aruch tells us it is ASSUR for that child to talk back, hit back, or insult his parents. (But that child SHOULD get away from such a parent. That isn't disrespectful; that's saving the child's life.)
Rabbi Wallerstein emphasizes the halacha that even if a parent is a rasha, a completely evil person, his child still has an obligation to respect him!
Even a mamzer, who is excommunicated in many ways in the community and can't marry a regular Jew, must respect his mother - even though his mother is the one who caused him to have the status of a mamzer!
Amazing. Really. If it wasn't clear halacha, it would be hard to believe.
But the reason for all this emphasis on kibud av v'em is that even in the most difficult situations, a person MUST have gratitude to his parents for the sole reasons that they are the ones who are responsible for giving him life and bringing him into this world.
The start to appreciating life is to appreciate the people who brought you into this world.

A person who has appreciation will appreciate what G-d does for him. If a person appreciates what G-d does for him, then he will be happy with life and not be jealous of others (see my last post on the blog).

How many people wait until a person has died to say "I wish i would've appreciated him/her more" or "I loved her so i wish I would've told her."
The shiva, r"l, is too late. Express your feelings, love, and gratitude now before it's too late.

If we appreciate what we have, we'll give to others more easily because we'll realize how good we have it and how we should share our goodness with others.
2. Do Chessed Without Calculations!
Many people have an assumption that you only do chessed and things for others because they did something for you or because you have a particular reason. For example, helping someone who is ill because you also had that illness once. Or helping someone who's from an abused home because you also came from an abused home.
Or helping someone because they have no else one.
Now of course that is a HUGE mitzvah and something priceless and commendable.
But a person doesn't NEED to have a reason to do chessed! How about helping someone just because they're going through pain? Just because they need a friend? Just because they need a good influence in their life? Just because they need help?
We learn this from Avraham Avinu, the epitome of true chessed. What did the malachim, whom he thought were arabs, ever do for him? When he invites them offer, he says (loosely translated) "if I've found favor in your eyes...please come to my home" - he asks them do ME the favor.
That's how we should view helping our fellow Jew. They're doing ME the favor by needing help.
Rabbi Wallerstein gave two examples in one of his shiurim. Many times (particularly in Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael and NY), such as after shacharit or a shiur in shul, people who need a ride but don't have a car will ask around (somewhat shyly) - "is anyone driving to ________?"
So instead of waiting for someone to ask you, you can get up and say "I'm driving to Brooklyn. Does anyone need a ride?"
Or as is common at weddings, many single girls don't have a ride to the wedding and need to car pool. You can ask the kallah before the wedding "does anyone from _______ (your city) need a ride to your wedding?" or during the wedding, you can spread the word that you're driving to ________, and you're happy to give a ride if anyone needs one.

The second example Rabbi Wallerstein gives is that often times, beggars (both Jewish and nonJewish) are sitting outside in the sweltering heat of the summer or freezing cold winter, asking for money. People give them money, but few people offer to get them a cold drink or hot drink. The beggars are often hesistant to take a 10 minute "break" from begging to go get themselves a drink because they'll lose money gaining opportunities during that time that they're not asking for money.
Regardless of whether or not the beggar is a nice person, (s)he is still a human being, and no human enjoys being overly hot and sweaty or freezing!
A nice thing to do is to say "can I please get you a drink?"

3. Daven For People - While On the Street!
I heard this idea from Rebbetzin kaganoff a few years ago at a summer learning session that I attended. This beautiful idea really made a strong impression on me & completely enhanced my life and ahavat yisrael. If you apply this to your life, I have no doubt that your ahavat chinam will enhance tremendously.
Always daven for people - not just during shmonah esreh!
Yes, shmona esreh is an amazing and important tefilla, but seek other opportunities to daven as well.
If you receive an e-mail or text or read a blog post/news article that someone is sick, say at least 1 perek of Tehillim. If you dont have time to say some Tehillim, you can simply say "HaShem please send this person a refua shlemah"
If you see a pregnant woman on the street, you can daven/whisper quietly while walking and say "HaShem please help her have an easy birth and healthy baby."
If you see a single, daven "G-d please send this person a good zivug."
If you see a Jew who is off the derech or not yet religious say "HaShem please help this person have opportunities to do teshuva and be close to You."
If you see a couple who are experiencing difficulty with conceiving children, you can pray "HaShem please help this couple have healthy and holy Jewish children."

Davening for strangers takes merely seconds and is just so beautiful. You establish a completely different connection and outlook towards members whom you don't know (and even ones who you do know) in am yisrael.
4. Resolve Your Issues with People But Also Stay Away!
If you have an issue/conflict with a friend or family member that can be sorted out through communication, a helpful mediator (such as a Rav or therapist), then go for it! There is a commandment that we are not allowed to hate a fellow Jew in our heart. Why does the pasuk say in "your heart"? Because you can't keep it IN. First, ideally, you should try to resolve to conflict within yourself. But if that's not doable, then calmly and rationally express your feelings to the person.
However, if for whatever reason, this is not possible or feasible, or you already tried doing so and that solution failed, then simply stay away from the people who annoy you, upset you, bring you down, etc. Once you have a distance from them, FORGIVE them & move on with your life.
There's no sin in staying away from a person who harms you, be it spiritually/religiously, emotionally, financially, physically. In fact, in most cases, it is probably a mitzvah to stay away from such an influence.
5. Give Tzdaka
Rambam teaches us that giving a little bit of tzdaka often is better than seldom giving a lot at the once. Why? Because giving tzdaka often conditions us to be giving. Humans are often habitual creations. By giving oa little bit daily or often, we get into the habit of being giving people. Giving a lot once in a while is certainly praiseworthy, but it doesn't bring out the midda of chessed and giving.
Aim to give tzdaka with kavana and a smile on your face. Even if it's "just" a penny or nickel a day in your tzdaka box at home, the very act of giving is praiseworthy! If a little bit once a day is no doable, then aim for once a week - like on Erev Shabbat. If that's not doable, aim for once a month.
Again, no amount is too little, and it's incredible how quickly and efficiently a little bit a day or once a week adds up to in a year.
Once a year, or whenever reached a certain amount, donate the money to the charity organization/cause of your choice. 

Again, many of the ideas posted here is credited to Rabbi Wallerstein. Shiur is linked in my last blog post :)

May HaShem help us all work on ourselves and to have true Ahavat Chinam!
May everyone have a Shabbat Shalom u'Mevorach!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sinat Chinam - oy oy oy oy!

Well, my dear friends in the world of blogger, I'm back! (da na na na na! Just gotta include that tune! ;) )
I know I've written that phrase so many times, but the truth is, I'm never really gone from blogger. I check updates, and I've started blog posts so many times but then just don't get around to finishing them. I miss this blog, as I have it mainly for selfish purposes (hey, just being honest here). It gives me great chizzuk, and whoever reads it is joining me along the beautiful journey of life.

Sinat Chinam. Oy! How terrible it is. Afterall, it is due to sinat chinam that we don't have a Beit Hamikdash.
But what on earth does sinat chinam mean? And what is the cause?
Chazal teach us that the first Beit Hamikdash was destroyed due to the three cardinal sins: shfichat damim, avoda zara, and gilui arayot. Those were terrible sins, but merely 70 years later, a 2nd Beit Hamikdash was built! Despite the gravity of our sins, we were able to merit the Beit Hamikdash that we so long for now.
That means that Am Yisrael repented & HaShem forgave and gave us another chance to be close to Him. But what was the reason that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash destroyed? Sinat Chinam. And we still don't have a 3rd Temple, so that means we STILL haven't done enough teshuva and still haven't gotten rid of sinat chinam.
Wow. I mean... is sinat chinam really so much worse than murder? Worse than avoda zara?! Worse than promiscuity??
It must be, since the Temple was built relatively quickly the second time, and we're still waiting for nearly 2000 years for the 3rd Temple to be rebuilt (may it be built b'mehera b'yameinu!)
So, it is obvious that sinat chinam is a really big deal.

But did you ever wonder what sinat chinam actually is? I remember always thinking it's hating someone without a reason, but honestly, out all everyone you know - how many people just hate someone without a reason?
I don't know many.
I do know many people who hate someone because that person hurt them in some way.
So what's the deal with sinat chinam?
The quick answer is that when we don't have hakarat hatov, we have jealousy, and jealousy leads to sinat chinam.
Ready to delve into our amazing Holy Torah?

So, let's go to the very beginning...
Adam was formed from dirt. Why dirt? Because dirt has the most potential for growth, for life, for sustenance. Afterall, everything we eat grows from dirt. Vegetation is needed for all animals to surirve. Dirt is needed for trees to grow; trees that give us oxygen, paper, wood, and countless of other benefits.
But dirt is also something very low, and well, dirty (hey, the word is called DIRTy for a reason!) That is to remind us that we are "afar" - dust. We will become dust after we die...our bodies will be nothing. That should greatly humble human beings and realize that THIS WORLD is the only place where we can use our potential, since, afterall we are made of dirt. But at the same time, we should keep in mind, that our potential is not timeless, and we will soon (hopefully after 120 BH) become dust. Then our potential will be over, and the only thing we will have left in olam haba is our mitzvot that we fulfilled in this world.
Okay, so something interesting about dust.
Think of something beautiful, like gold, silver, or black marble tiles. If they are covered in dust, they aren't so beautiful anymore. The dust conceals their beauty.
That's what happens to a person when he is jealous. His jealousy will cover up anything good that he has in his life. Jealousy blinds a person. It spreads through a person's mind like an illness and slowly but surely will completely destroy the jealous person.

What does jealousy have to do with anything?
Because jealousy is ALWAYS the cause of sinat chinam.

(she doesn't look like a happy camper, does she?")
Rabbi Wallerstein once gave a shiur, and a man came up to him and said "please help me. I am  jealous of so many of my friends...their businesses/parnassa, their clothes, their wives... how can I stop?"
Rabbi Wallerstein told him that his jealousy is merely a symptom of his real problem. The true basis to this man's problem is that he need a sense of self. if you're happy with yourself, then you wont care what anyone else has!
Chazal teach us "ezehu ashir? Hasameach bchelko." - "who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot."
This is just so, so, SO true. Wow. The wisdom of Chazal. How much this applies today, perhaps more than ever!
Because there will ALWAYS be someone richer. There will ALWAYS be someone more beautiful. There will ALWAYS be someone who has a "better" spouse. There will ALWAYS be someone who has more well behaved children. There will ALWAYS be someone who seems to have it better than you do.
But your reality is what you make of it. If you live your life appreciating everything you have and looking at everything in your life without comparisons, then you will slowly start to love your own life and not have any desire to live someone else's life.

There's a Mishna that says "kina motzia et haadam m'haolam" - translated as "jealousy takes out a person from this world." What does that mean? We're still alive even if we're jealous! We're still breathing, still walking, still functioning, aren't we?
This Mishna is teaching us that the person who is jealous doesn't have a sense of self. If I don't have a sense of sense, then there is no me! I'm wrongly trying to live the other person's life if I'm jealous. My thoughts will eat me up and absolutely take away any gratitude for what G-d gave ME. So therefore, I dont have me - it's like im not in this world.

We're all individuals. Every single person in the world is special and unique - there was never anyone exactly like you in the world, and there never will be! (Yes, including you! The person reading this!)
Every person has a finger print that no one else has. So just like you don't have the same finger print as anyone else, you also shouldn't have anything else to do with anyone's bank account, looks, marriage, etc.
Every individual should focus on your himself by working on making HIMSELF happy. He shouldn't work on himself by trying to compete with other people! In fact, theres no such thing as positive competition in the Torah. Whenever people try to compete, we see disasterous results, such as w/ kayin and hevel or with korach v'adato!

There's an interesting and amusing mazal that kina (jealousy) and sina (hatred) went for a walk. They met a king, and he said to kina, I'll give you anything - whatever you ask for, and I'll give sina twice the amount of whatever you ask for. kina got annoyed and exclaimed "I don't want sina to have more than me!" So, kina thought about it & came to a decision. He requested that the king to punch out his eye, so sina would then lose both eyes.
How crazy is that?!
Anyone who reads that thinks how foolish kina was. He could've gained something, but instead he lost something just so that his enemy could suffer.
That's how terrible jealousy is. Who suffers the MOST from being jealous? The person who is jealous! He is willing to harm himself just so that the other person can lose something, so that the jealous person will feel like he has more.

So, my friends, we see here how terrible jealousy is. How much it can ruin people's lives. No wonder it's part of the 10 Commandments that it's assur for us to be jealous!
And just as much as jealousy ruins a person's life, sina can also eat a person alive - literally. To the point of murder and self-destruction.
The only way to overcome jealousy, even a speck of it, is to completely zoom out of other people's lives and to focus on the GOOD in our lives.
Once we appreciate and love OURSELVES, we can do ahavat chinam with our fellow Jews. Why love ourselves first? Because a person can only give over what he has.
If I don't love myself, how can I love someone else?

An explanation of ahavat chinam, including tips, will be'ezrat HaShem be posted in the near future.

May we all merit to work on our middot and see all of the good HaShem bestows upon us, and may we me merit to see the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt in our times b'mehera b'yameinu, amen.

***I credit most of the divrei Torah here to an excellent shiur given by Rabbi Wallerstein.