OK, so it’s an intriguing title, right? Well, it’s going to be even more confusing when I start by saying that I suggest deciding that there is definitely something wrong with people.
I’ve heard in the name of R’ Moshe Leib Sassover that every middah (character trait) has a purpose in avodas Hashem. He was asked how the trait of heresy can be used to serve God. The answer he gave was: “When your friend is in trouble, don’t have faith that Hashem will help him. Be an ‘apikores’ and feel like it’s up to you to help him yourself.”
So this time I’m suggesting a way to use the attribute of “ayin ra,” a negative outlook, in furtherance of serving Hashem. You see, quite often we find people who do terrible things. They can be thoughtless, heartless, selfish and so on. We get upset. We get hurt. We get even.
It’s a terrible cycle of tit-for-tat and “Oh yeah?! I’ll show you.” We don’t become our best selves when we are upset by those people and we normally transgress many sins as we try to deal with it. So here’s my suggestion: I think that when we encounter someone who does something outrageous, instead of yelling at them, “Are you out of your mind?” we should actually tell ourselves, in a calm, rational tone, “He’s out of his mind.”
Now you may ask what the difference is, but there’s a very big one. In the first case, we assume the person is a rational human being who thinks like we do. If he did what he did, it must be because he is mean-spirited or spiteful. In the second case, we realize the person is not rational, and what he did was the result of some issue he has.
Yes, you might argue with me that it’s highly unlikely that every person you meet has true mental or emotional issues, but that doesn’t matter. The truth is irrelevant in this case since we’re looking for the best way to serve Hashem, and that is, like the Sassover says, by sometimes acting like we believe something we really don’t.
What I think we should do when we see people acting inappropriately is tell ourselves that there is really something wrong with them. They don’t have free will in this situation and it isn’t for us to judge. Take the tragedies that happen when people forget their children in the car, rachmana litzlan. People rant and rave that only a heartless idiot wouldn’t care about his child enough to realize where he is at every moment. To them I say, “I pray you never get into the situation where you understand how it happened.”
We are not in other people’s brains and we can’t condemn them for things just because we disagree with them. I don’t have the same urge to schmooze in shul or go out to Kiddush Club so I can’t criticize those who do those things. Others may feel an intense need to eat vegetables and run for miles every day but they can’t criticize people who like to eat doughnuts and sit on the couch because they don’t share that passion.
Instead, we should tell ourselves that these people have it inside themselves and to them it makes sense. We have to accept what we consider shortcomings and not take them personally. I recall when someone made a nasty comment to me. It bothered me and I asked someone, “What did I ever do to him?” The guy answered, “His father talks the same way. That’s just how he is.”
I realized that when I considered him “damaged goods” it was actually a way for me to allow him his shortcomings without taking them personally. It reminds me of the woman speaking to her friend who was asked her secret for a happy marriage.
“When my husband and I got married, I decided to choose 10 things I would let him do without getting upset at him.” “Wow,” said her friend, “how did you choose what to put on the list?” The woman replied, “I never actually did make a list. Whenever something happens, I say to myself, ‘Boy! He’s lucky that’s one of the ten!’”
We know the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, senseless hatred. However, that’s a misnomer because nobody hates someone else for no reason. We just hate them for insufficient reasons, like because they park in a handicapped spot when they’re not handicapped or they walk in the middle of the street when we want to drive past. Maybe they throw garbage on the floor or gossip or are rude to cashiers. These are not nice things to do, and they may be selfish, but they’re not enough of a reason to hate them, especially when we know that Hashem loves them more than we can love ourselves.
Instead, we should offer ahavas chinam, free love, by choosing to overlook people’s failings and chalk them up to something we can’t understand. We should choose to love people even though we have reasons not to like them. If, in order to help us with that, we have to tell ourselves “there really is something wrong with him,” well, then, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Author’s note: It should go without saying, but maybe it doesn’t, that what I’m suggesting is just to think these thoughts to ourselves as a means of not getting upset. We should never say anything to the person or others like that, and eventually we should be able to make peace with the person. I thank the astute editor who pointed this potential pitfall out to me.
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By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Jonathan Gewirtz is an inspirational writer and speaker whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion. Sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English. E-mail [email protected] and put Subscribe in the subject.