June 24, 2024
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Rebbe Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir zy”a, “Reb Shayale,” was beloved and respected as a tzadik, rebbe, and miracle worker who dedicated his life to the well-being of Jews. A gaon in Torah and paradigm of mesirus nefesh and ahavas Yisrael, Reb Shayale referred to himself as the Aibishter’s kecher, God’s cook. This was because he was continuously welcoming and feeding all who came, from talmidei chachamim to the simplest of Jews from across Hungary and Europe. Reb Shayale provided them with a place to stay, hachnosas orchim, care for their material and spiritual needs.

Pinchas’l, an unfortunate vagabond who suffered from emotional instability, was a regular guest. He was rude and unkempt, and would spend much of his time sitting on the Rebbe’s balcony smoking cigarettes, even on Shabbos. The flagrant disregard for kedushas Shabbos was just too much for the gabbaim, who were concerned not only for the honor of Shabbos and the kavod of their rebbe, but that he was negatively influencing others. They suggested Pinchas’l find other arrangements away from the home and beis midrash of the tzadik.

Reb Shayale looked at them in astonishment. “Should I send a Jew away from my home?! I will be ois Rebbe, I’ll close my kremel, I’ll give it all up… but a Yid will never be sent away from Kerestir!” Such was the path of Reb Shayale and is the derech of the true tzadikim.

~

Rebbe Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta, the Ohev Yisrael, zy”a, was known to find an allusion to the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, “and you shall love your friend as yourself,” in every parsha in the Torah. When asked where this fundamental mitzvah is found in our sedra, Parshas Balak, the Rebbe responded: “BaLaK is a roshei teivos (acronym) for V’ahavta L’reacha Kamocha….”

For even the devoted chasidim of Apta, this was a stretch! Even though the letters do indeed share the same sound, two of the three letters do not match. V’ahavta begins with the letter vav, while Balak begins with a beis. And kamocha begins with a chaf, not a kuf. There was an audible, cynical reaction among the chevra, but then the Rebbe admonished them with powerful words of mussar: Ven es kumpt tzu ahavas Yisrael ken mi’nisht medakdek zayn mitt di oysiyos! — “When it comes to achieving love of our fellow Jew, we can’t be so precise with the spelling! If you are so particular about ‘the letter of the law’ you will never come to Ahavas Yisrael, loving a Jew.”

Ahavas Yisrael requires flexibility, a willingness to “round-up” your calculations and not be so exacting with other people. Ahavas Yisrael demands an ayin Tovah—seeing the good in everyone.

This middah is referred to in Pirkei Avos 5:22 as the difference between students of Avraham Avinu, and l’havdil, those of the evil Bilaam: “Those who have an ayin Tovah, a humble spirit and a humble soul, are among the disciples of our forefather Avraham. Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul are among the disciples of the wicked Bilaam.”

The middah of ayin Tovah is to see beneath the surface of another person, to see their essence. When we find a good point at the core of another Jew, we relate to them with generosity of spirit, not exacting, flexible and patient.

As we begin the days of bein hameitzarim, our focus is directed toward the rebuilding of our Beis Hamikdash. May we merit the blessing of the Holy City, to be guided by the light of the true tzadikim and see the good of Yerushalayim—and merit living our lives with an ayin Tovah toward all!


Rabbi Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC and mashpia of OU-NCSY. He is a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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