push me with the left, pull me with the right

Over at Jewish Philosopher, Jacob Stein recently posted a critical commentary on those Jews who have turned their back on their faith.

I contacted him via email because the tone sounded really harsh, and he quoted some of his sources. It seems that basically, the Jewish reaction to Jews who have fallen willfully by the wayside is twofold. On the one hand, we have the people whose roots are in Gevurah and they generally want to wipe out the perpetrator. On the other hand, we have the people whose roots are in Hesed who mostly want to approach and shower the offender with loving kindness such that he will recognise the error of his ways.

What is common to both sides is the awareness of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה - all of Israel is responsible for one another. (More or less the all for one and one for all principle.) Both are looking to aid the individual in the best way possible.

The people who want to drive them away, and classify them as not Jewish, (or to pass judgement on them and outright kill them for which there is, by the way, (halachic and historic) precedent) are trying to protect this lost Jew from causing themselves (in addition to everyone else) any more harm.

The people who want to hold them close and persuade them through effort and affection aren't satisfied with the cessation of harm, they want to help that person to grow beyond themselves and do teshuva return to God of their own will and not only undo what they've done, but actually take all of what happened and bring it over to the side of good through kiddush HaShem, sanctifying God's name.

All of this heads back to the endless question that is the covenant of peace that HaShem gives to Pinhas ben Elazar HaKohen. Pinhas was the grandson of Aharon HaKohen, the high priest. Aharon is best known for being a rodef shalom, a tireless pursuer of peace. How could Pinhas, his grandson stray so far from that path as to slay two people in plain sight of the Jewish nation because of their transgressions against God? Did he stray at all, considering God awards him a covenant of peace in reward(?) for his action? Why do we write the vav, (ו) broken in that particular word שלום in that covenant?

Sadly, I don't have the best answers to these questions yet. I still have a lot more to learn. But I would like to leave you with two points:

First, as I've noted before, the Notzer Hesed tells us outright that any evil we have heard ascribed to another Jew is falsehood and folly. [Similarly, if someone tells you something bad about themselves, I think (halachically) that still qualifies as lashon harah and you have a responsibility to yourself to not be mekabel.]

Secondly, and I think this is the deeper point I'd like to give over. I've said it already, but I'd like to hammer it home a little better. Both the sides of gevurah and the side of hesed. They both want to bring this Jew back. All of the halachoth about violence toward such people and how to think of them more often than not is there to wake these people up, to shake them up, make them fear a little, because from fear they can come to fear God, knowing their only true salvation is to rely on God to save them. If you look at these halachoth you can see this at their heart. All of the efforts of others to love and pray for them don't work half as well as inspiring the person to pray for themselves. Similarly, we know that when people are judged harshly and mistreated by others, they are spared judgement from heaven. Sometimes through judging them harshly, we are actually opening the doors upstairs, making their way back so much easier, if they would only take it. Other times, through turning the other cheek and pursuing them with love, we are condemning them to harsh decrees from on high.

In the end, the combination of those who pursue them with love and those who drive them away with fear will, with God's infinite wisdom running the whole show, return them to their proper place. We each have to keep playing our part in every little interaction that we have.

[Here's a little clue from the text of the Torah: The broken vav (ו) in the שלום in the covenant with Pinhas (פנחס) symbolizes these two sides. Vav has gematria 6 and represents the six middle middoth, these middoth split into two columns, the right side, headed by hesed, and the left column, headed by gevurah. When both arms, the hesed, and the gevurah, are used together, then we reach peace.] [And one more gematria: פנחס + שלום = עקדת - In the world of akkudim (עקודים) all of the orot, including those of hesed & gevurah, are unified within a single vessel.]

For myself, the word of the Rebbe m'Komarna is enough, I can rest assured that through practicing the Torah of Rebbe Nachman and finding the good in them, I will bring them to the side of good, and I can take solace also in that by simply believing in these words and acting accordingly, I'm strengthing my emunath hachamim.


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