Purim: How To Love People And Be A Friend

Purim: How To Love People And Be A Friend

Wednesday, March 7th, '12

The Sfas Emes comments on the Posuk  וּבְכָל יוֹם וָיוֹם מָרְדֳּכַי מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי חֲצַר בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים לָדַעַת אֶת שְׁלוֹם אֶסְתֵּר וּמַה יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ, that Mordechai went to visit Esther not once or twice, but each and every day during the five years Esther spent in the palace. The reason was, Esther was an orphan, and Mordechai did not want her to feel lonely.

(Question #2) But why would Esther feel lonely? She was the Queen of the Persian Empire. She could have anything she wanted. I am sure she was surrounded with people all the time and she had as much time as she wanted to socialize. Yet every single day for 5 years Mordechai went to visit her, because if he wouldn’t, she would be lonely. How do we understand this?

Before we get to the answers, we need to ask a few questions regarding the Mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem. The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) says that you fulfill this Mitzvah by examining nature, and then, when one sees the wonders it contains, מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול.

(Question #3) The problem is Chazal seem to say different.  The Yalkut says that the way to fulfill the Mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem is through learning Torah:

ילקוט שמעוני דברים – פרק ו – רמז תתלט

והיו הדברים למה נאמר. לפי שהוא אומר ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך איני יודע כיצד לאהוב, תלמוד לומר והיו הדברים האלה תן הדברים האלה על לבך שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם ומדבק בדרכיו

No mention of any examination of nature.

(Question #4) Worse yet, the Rambam I mentioned actually quotes the second half of that Medrash seemingly in support of his idea that examination of nature leads to Ahavas Hashem:

רמב”ם יד החזקה – הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב

היאך היא הדרך לאהבתו ויראתו בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים ויראה מהן חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאוה תאוה גדולה לידע השם הגדול כמו שאמר דוד צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל … ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה רבון העולמים כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם כמו שאמרו חכמים בענין אהבה שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם

But, seemingly, the Chazal that the Rambam is quoting says nothing in support of the Rambam! On the contrary, it suggests a totally different way to arrive at Ahavas Hashem.

(Question #5)   About the Medrash itself, we can ask: The Medrash asks “How does one love Hashem” – איני יודע כיצד לאהוד – and it answers that by learning Torah you will “recognize” – not “love” – Hashem. אתה מכיר מי שאמר והי’ העולם – It started off asking about Ahava and ended telling us about Hakara. But Hakara wasn’t the question?

(Question #6)  Also regarding the language of the Medrash – of all the possible ways to refer to Hashem, it calls him by the less-than-usual מי שאמר והיה העולם. Why?

To explain all this, we need to introduce a famous quip made by Rav Nachman of Breslov. Someone asked him how he explains the fact that there are so many choshuve people, Misnagdim, that oppose him.

“The Misnagdim?” Rav Nachman said, “They don’t oppose me. They oppose the person who they think I am.  And he deserves it!”

Rav Nachman is saying that you can’t harbor ill feelings against someone unless you know them. Otherwise, your grievances are directed not at the person you think you oppose, but at some fictitious character that does not even exist. Rav Nachman simply did not relate to the opposition of the Misnagdim because their opposition had nothing to do with him, even though the Misnagdim thought it did.

We can find a source for Rav Nachman’s principle in the Gemora. The Gemora in Taanis (23a) tells a story of Choni HaM’Agel who slept for 70 years. When he woke up, none of his old friends believed he was Choni. He was so lonely that he exclaimed: או חברותא או מיתותא – he would rather not be alive than not have any friends.

I have a question. Why couldn’t Choni find new friends? He was a big Tzadik, and surely a great Baal Midos. Probably very easy to get along with. So his old friends did not believe who he was. Nobody believed he was Choni. “Ok, so I’m not Choni. I’m Ploni. Let’s be friends.” Even if his old friends wouldn’t be friends with him, couldn’t he find new friends?

The answer is, this is Rav Nachman’s principle. Just like you cannot have ill feelings toward me if you do not know me, because it is not really me that you have a problem with but rather the fictitious character that you think I am. So too you cannot be friends with someone unless you know them, for otherwise you are not friends with them, but rather the fictitious character that you think they are.

But it is not them. And therefore, no matter how much you love someone, if you do not know them, they will not relate to your love, they will not feel it, because  you do not really love them. You love someone for sure, but it is not them – it is a fictional character that you think is them.

And so Choni could never find friends. Because no matter how many people would love him and care about him, because they did not know he was Choni, because they did not know who he really was, they would not really be loving him, but rather the fictitious character they thought he was. If they love Choni because they think he is Ploni, then Ploni has friends but Choni does not.

So Choni felt lonely. He did have friends but because they did not know who he really was, he never felt their friendship. He had Rav Nachman’s situation in reverse. “They do not love me,” he would think. “They love the person they think I am. או חברותא או מיתותא.”

I have seen this situation often in real life, dealing with teenagers and their parents. For whatever reason, this happens more with girls than boys, and mothers more than fathers, but the child and parent would be sitting at my desk, and the child will complain bitterly about the mother “She doesn’t love me.” The mother, with tears in her eyes, and sincerity so real you could cut it with a knife would look at her and say “I do love you I love you so much I would die for you I would do anything for you,” or something to that effect.

Yet the child will remain unmoved.  What is happening here?

Invariably, what is happening is that the mother loves the child very much. But the child thinks the mother does not know her. She feels that her mother cannot relate to her, does not understand what matters to her, does not know what “makes her tick.” She feels like a stranger in her own home. And because of this, she cannot identify with her mother’s love. She does not feel it. She can’t articulate it properly but she thinks, “My mother doesn’t love me, she loves the daughter who she thinks I am. That girl is fortunate.” The disagreement between the mother and the daughter is not in the words, it’s in the nigun – the mother says “I love you.” The daughter says “You don’t love me.” She does not mean “You don’t love me.” She means “You don’t love me.”

If you don’t know someone, you cannot love them.

And the more you know them, the more you are able to love them.

What is a “friend”? Concepts are defined in the Torah in the first instance they are mentioned. The first instance of the mention of a “friend” in the Torah is Yehuda’s friendship with Chira.חִירָה רֵעֵהוּ הָעֲדֻלָּמִי . I once heard from Rav Schwab that this tells us a friend is someone you can confide in, even if you did an Aveirah. I am going to learn this just a bit differently for now. I will say a friend is someone who knows things about you that others do not know. It doesn’t matter if it’s something positive or negative. The more someone knows you the more of a friend they are, because the more their feelings of friendship are directed at you, and the more you can identify with them. You say “This person really cares about me.” Because he really knows who I am.

And the same rule applies to the love of Hashem.  The Rambam says that through examining nature a person arrives at great feelings of love and gratitude and awe for Hashem “Who created all this.” But here’s the problem. But in order to love someone, feelings of love are not enough. You have to know that person as well. You have to love that person as opposed to come imaginary character that you think that person is.

How does one come to know Hashem? How do we learn what Hashem cares about, what is important to Him, what matters to Him, what He desires, what He thinks? All the things that we want those who love us to know about us?

The answer is, by learning Torah. The Torah reveals to us Hashem’s will. It tells us what is important to Him, what matters to Him, and how He is pleased. Those are things we would want someone who loves us to know about us. We know them through learning Hashem’s Torah.

So the Rambam tells us that by examining nature, a person obtains great feelings of love toward Hashem. But that is not enough. If such a person does not know Torah, he may feel like he loves Hashem, but Hashem looks down and says to him: “You say you love me? How can you love me? You don’t even know me!”

Hashem says, “Do you know what I care about in this world? Do you know what matters to me?  Do you know what makes me happy and unhappy?  Do you know what I want to happen in a case where two people are arguing over ownership of a Talis that they both found in the street together?

“If you don’t, then you don’t love Me. You love the imaginary Hashem who you think I am.”

And the more Torha one knows, the more one loves Hashem, because the more he knows Him. With each additional Tosfos that one learns, one knows so much more about Hashem’s values, what matters to Him. And the more you know someone, the more you love them as opposed to a figment of your imagination.

That is what the Medrash means when it says you come to love Hashem by learning Torah. When the Mesrash asked איני יודע כיצד לאהוב , it assumed that the person followed the Rambam’s formula, and therefore possesses feelings of love toward Hashem. But that’s not enough to love Hashem. You need to know the object of your love as well in order to love Him. The quesiotn of the Medrash was not how do we love Hashem, but rather, how do we love Hashem. And to that the Medrash answers: Learn Torah, because through Torah you come to know Hashem. And by knowing Him, oyu are able to love Him. Because then, your feelings of love will be directed toward Hashem.

And that is why the Medrash there refers to Hashem specifically as מי שאמר והיה העולם. It is referring to the Rambam (i.e. the idea in the Rambam) – that by examining the Creation you develop great feelings of love for the Creator. The Medrash was saying that in addition to the feelings of love, you need to learn Torah as well in order to love the Creator Whose creation generates you feelings of love. Because to love Him, you need to know Him as well as feel love for Him. Learn Torah, and that way you will know – and therefore love – מי שאמר והיה העולםthe one Whose Creation gave you those feelings of love, as the Rambam says they will.

There is no contradiction between the Rambam’s instructions for Ahavas Hashem, and that of the Medrash. The Rambam was asking how does one generate feelings of love for Hashem; the Medrash, commenting on the connection between the words ואהבת את ה’ and והיו הדברים האלה says that learning Torah is the way to ensure that it is really Hashem you love, and not a fictitious Hashem that you think is the Creator.

And therefore, the Rambam was justified in quoting the Medrash to support his position that examining nature causes Ahavas Hashem. He says:

ולפי הדברים האלו אני מבאר כללים גדולים ממעשה רבון העולמים כדי שיהיו פתח למבין לאהוב את השם כמו שאמרו חכמים בענין אהבה שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם

The Medrash is saying he is about to reveal great principles through which a Maven – someone who knows Hashem – can come to love Him, and his proof is from the Medrash, that says someone who knows Who Hashem is  - who is מכיר Hashem – will then love מי שאמר והיה העולם. By referring to Hashem in this context as מי שאמר והיה העולם,  we are talking about someone who has feelings of love for the Creator, but also needs to be a Maven, that is, to know Who Hashem is as well. (Questions #2-5 are thus answered).

The lesson from all this is that in order to love someone, or rather, in order for them to feel your love, you need not only to love them, but to know them as well. Choni could not be loved because nobody knew is true identity. Hashem cannot be loved except by someone who knows Him through His Torah.

And now back to Mordechai. Our first question was how could Esther feel alone if she was living in a palace full of friends and was able to spend as much time as she wants with anyone she wanted. The answer is, Esther, like Choni HaM’Agel, was incognito. Nobody knew who she was. So even though she could have had dozens of friends who loved her and cared for her, because they didn’t really know who she was, those friends were not really friends of hers but of the fictitious person they thought she was. Esther was in the exact same poisiton as Choni Ham’Agel, -  a great Tzadik who nobody knew their real identity. And like him, she was incapable of feeling friendship and love. Like him, she had no friends.

או חברותא או מיתותא.

But there was one person who did know who she was. And he was indeed able to be her friend. To make sure she does not feel lonely. That was Mordechai.

And so, every day for five years straight, Mordechai went to visit her so that she would not feel alone. He needed to do that because although she was queen of Persian Empire, she was alone. The fictitious Queen Esther had friends; not the real one. The real one was lonely. Mordechai recognized that, and because of all he did to make her feel loved, we were zocheh to the Purim miracle.

That is why Chazal instituted the Mitzvah of משלוח מנות איש לרעהו. It was because of Mordechai’s Midah of רעות that we merited the miracle. Mishloach Manos is an appropriate reflection of that.


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