In last week’s issue, Rav Leff discussed the three aspects of G-d’s judgment:
one’s present spiritual level, his progress over time, and the development of
his unique potential. In this issue, he addresses the role of interpersonal
relationships in the scheme of judgment.
The Mishnah says that HaShem looks at each person not only as
an individual, but also “in one general gaze." This implies that we are not only
judged in these three aspects as individuals in a vacuum; a person is also
judged in each of these three aspects on how he has interacted with other
You may have been an exemplary person, with a perfect
tzelem Elokim, but how did you interact with other human beings? When a
shepherd has a flock of sheep, that brings him honor, but when his sheep are
scattered all around, it’s not a flock. B’rov am hadras melech. The more
people, the more glory to the King. Did you unite with others to do what was
right, or did you act as a loner? There’s no comparison when an individual does
a mitzvah to when people do mitzvos together.
Secondly, you are judged on how many steps you took ascending
the ma’alos beis charom, how much you have improved. You are not the only
one on the staircase. There are people behind you and people ahead of you. How
did you deal with them? Did you lend a helping hand to the people beneath you?
Did you teach them? Did you set a good example for them?
And how did you deal with the people on the steps above you?
Did you admire and respect them, or did you mock and ridicule them? It can make
a difference. Because if you showed admiration and respect, it gave them
encouragement, made them feel that it’s worthwhile to be on that high level. But
if they’re mocked and ridiculed, then it weakens them.
Lastly, each person is unique, with his special talents and
capabilities. But if you function alone, with all the great talents in the
world, you won’t achieve anything. This is a group effort. It’s like a motor. If
every component of the motor works in unison, the car will go; but if the spark
plugs decide to work on their own, and the carburator does its thing, and
nothing is synchronized, the car isn’t going to go anywhere.
Someone once asked the Chofetz Chaim, "There are so
many different groups, different approaches, wouldn’t it be better if all Jews
were the same?" He said, "Of course not. The Jewish people are called G-d’s
army. In an army, would you ask the same question? ‘Wouldn’t it be better if
everybody were in the infantry? Or the air force?’ If there wouldn’t be
different divisions, they couldn’t win the war. So, too, for the Jewish people
to be successful, all of these different approaches are needed. There are those
who emphasize chesed, those who emphasize Torah learning, those who
emphasize prayer. And within each of those groups there are many different
approaches. Together they form the totality of what the Jewish people have to
One has to be concerned about others, but the Torah demands
self-concern, as well. If two people are in the desert, and only one of them has
a canteen of water, with just enough water for one person to make it back to
civilization, and if they share the water, both will die, the Torah says clearly
that the one whose canteen it is must drink the water. You have a mitzvah
to take care of yourself first. Yet, the Torah commands us to be concerned about
others. How do we balance the two?
Rabbi Shimon Shkop explained that if you have the right
outlook there is no problem. Most people understand the ideal of ishto k’gufo,
a husband and wife are one entity. So that when a person is concerned about his
spouse, it’s not concern about someone else, it’s actually self-concern, because
they are one. But it is possible to reach a consciousness of self that extends
far beyond one’s immediate family. There are levels at which one feels that
everyone—the whole Jewish people, the whole world—are a part of him. So
there’s no contradiction between self-concern and concern for others.
How important is proper interaction? The Shunnamis woman
prepared a room in her home for the prophet Elisha. Out of gratitude, he asked
her, "Would you like me to speak to the King for you?" The Zohar says that it
was Erev Rosh HaShana, and that Elisha meant he was soon going to be speaking
with HaShem, and he was offering to entreat G-d on her behalf. Although there
was much that she needed (she was childless), she said to him, "B’soch ami
anochi yosheves," among my people I dwell. Don’t single me out.
The merit of the community is even greater than having a
prophet pray on one’s behalf. So says Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. On our own, we are
all deficient; perfection is only by coming together.