The weekly Parsha – Parshas Kedoshim

There are fifty one different commandments in this week’s Torah reading; some regarding charity, others about judges some are personal. For instance, the three found in this sentence: 
 
“Don’t take revenge, don’t bear a grudge against your people and love your friend like yourself, I am      G-d.” (19:17) 
 
These three seem deceptively simple, but in fact they often challenge the essence of our souls.   The Torah is often against our nature. But, after all, did it have to forbid ‘revenge and grudges”? Wouldn’t it have been enough to just write ‘Love your brother like yourself’ and the rest would come automatically? 
 
Certainly, where there is brotherly love there would be no place for grudges or revenge. Why does the Torah list all three? And why in the same sentence and in that order; negative first? Do they have a connection to one another? 
 
To answer this here is a story from the Talmud (Taanit 20a) explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 
 
One of the most outstanding personalities in the Talmud was the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi, author of ‘the Zohar’ (whose grave in the city of Meron, Israel is visited by a half a million Jews on the date of his passing – Lag B’Omer).  
 
Rabbi Shimon had a son Elazar whose holiness and erudition were second only to his father and many amazing stories are told about him.
 
For instance, how he answered Torah questions for years after he was dead! (Because he had many enemies who he suspected would disturb his funeral and his grave, on his deathbed he asked his wife not to advertise his death with a funeral or a burial, but rather to put his body in their attic until things calmed down. But things did not calm down, rather, miraculously, for the next twenty years, people yelled their Torah questions up the stairs to that attic and he actually yelled down the answers just as when he was alive! (Baba Metzia 84b) 
 
But here is, perhaps an even more amazing one (Taanit 20a). 
 
Once, Rabbi Elazar was riding his donkey back home from a very long and successful learning session. He was in a very good mood until a strange looking Jew crossed his path and greeted him with ‘Shalom’. 
 
The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Elazar, rather than replying to the greeting or just ignoring it, could not hold himself back and actually said. 
 
“Ugh! You disgusting fool, how ugly can a person be! Is everyone from your town as ugly as you are?” 
 
The man was shocked and insulted to his very essence! It took him a few seconds to recover but when he did, he replied straight to the point, “If you have complaints about my looks then perhaps go to the craftsman that created me (i.e. G-d) and say ‘how ugly is the vessel you made!” 
 
At this point Rabbi Elazar, apparently realizing his mistake, got off his donkey and asked the fellow to forgive him. But to no avail; the man flatly refused, turned his back and continued walking in a huff as Rabbi Elazar followed asking forgiveness and receiving the same answer, “I won’t forgive you till you go to the craftsman that made me and say ‘how ugly are the vessels you made’. 
 
This continued for quite a while until the fellow reached the gates of his home town followed by the Rabbi.  
 
When the populace of the town got wind that the famous Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon was at their gates they rushed in masses to meet him only to be greeted by a strange sight of the great holy man groveling behind a ‘nobody’ and begging his forgiveness.
 
The man told his story, the crowd prevailed upon him to forgive the Rabbi and the drama was resolved. 
 
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Lekuti Sichot vol.15 pg. 125) points out, that if taken at face value this story arouses several questions:  
 
First of all, why did the great Rabbi Elazar have to comment on this man’s appearance; what did he care? Why didn’t he just reply hello and continue on his way??
Secondly, how could Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon stoop so low as to say such negative, insulting things to a complete stranger? What was the purpose of his comment?
And finally, why is this story in the Talmud; what is it trying to teach us? 
 
The Rebbe answers, that in fact this story is really very deep and teaches us an essential lesson in the secret of, brotherly love. 
 
The external appearance of this stranger was not what bothered Rabbi Elazar. Rather the Rabbi saw that he was a person that had done many heinous sins against G-d and man and was intending to do more – his SOUL was ugly. And only drastic measures could correct him.  
 
Rabbi Elazar realized that G-d set up this ‘chance’ meeting in order to get this fellow to clean up his life and reveal his true core…. and that he was the only one who could get him to do it. But it demanded that he see through this veneer of evil and ugliness and reveal the man’s core of good which called for ‘Shock treatment’. 
 
And it worked! 
 
Rabbi Elazar’s caustic comment caused the man for the first time in his life, to start talking about his CREATOR. Suddenly the fellow, realized he was G-d’s creation! And not just an ordinary creation but the work of a CRAFTSMAN; carefully designed with a purpose and a goal! 
 
And, Rabbi Elazar caused him to repeat it over and over until finally it permeated his personality and changed him completely. 
 
All because of brotherly love. 
 
This perhaps answers our questions: Why did Rabbi Elazar speak harshly and what does it teach us.
 
According to Chassidut, every Jew desires to do Gd’s will; but this desire or soul can be covered by ‘ugly’ misconceptions and temporary insanity. 
 
But when this covering is removed (not necessarily as harshly as Rabbi Elazar did but rather with understanding and love) the ‘soul’ is revealed and everything becomes positive and healthy.  
 
So when we meet up with difficult, irritating, even evil people, we should treat all this negativity as an mere ‘shell’. But ‘real’ person inside is pure good,
 
That is why the commandment ‘Love your fellow man as yourself.” is preceded by ‘Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge’: 
 
Because, revenge and grudges are over-reactions to the external ‘ugly shell’ of others; and repaying evil with evil makes seeing the ‘loveable’ essence impossible.
 
Our job is to rather see through this transparent covering and react to the good that is underneath with the good in OUR essence.  
 
That is why Brotherly Love is called “The main principle of the TORAH” (see Tanya chapt. 32) because the Torah gives us the power to reveal our essence and hence the positive essence found in each and every person (and in everything).  
 
This is the job of Moshiach; to make it happen one moment sooner. The entire world will be positive and good. But it all depends on us… and not much is missing. We are standing on the merits of thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice.
 
Now it could be that even one more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the scales and bring Moshiach NOW!