A good friend wrote something on her Facebook wall today that stopped me in my tracks. Even though she isn’t Jewish, I’m not sure anyone could have written wiser words for approaching the Three Weeks.
“I have known the most fascinating people… Full of terrible awe and fearful beauty all…
I have known people who find each other abhorrent, who detest one another and rub against reach other like nails on a chalkboard.
I have known people full of void and empty, those you can fall into and hear your echoes all the way down.
I have known people full of pain, so hurt they hurt you-over flowing with shards of glass that will cut you open as you embrace them.
I have known people full of joy and optimism unflappable in their belief and hope they blind the world with their sun
I have known people full of confusion words tumble out in clumps not sentences constantly seeking and never finding the simple peace of clarity
I have known people full of great faith. Who need no proof, require no fact, who simply believe and believe and believe, and that belief covers them, strengthens them and ultimately saves them
I have known most… Lonely people. Never feeling accepted, they hide behind plastic smiles or angry brows, seeking connection through victimisation, mistaking attention for being seen… Mistaking their identity for being known.
And so I say to you…
The dark and gritty. The light and sweet.
Know and love them all my love..
And in doing so… learn to love yourself.”
One of the biggest things I have learned from my time in a small Chabad community is that no Jew is disposable. At smaller Chabad houses, like the very first place I went to services and the Chabad house I go to now, every single Jew counts and is absolutely necessary. We often have to delay a bit in order to get a minyan (group of 10 men required for prayers) and sometimes boys are even sent to go find someone to bring them to shul. At events, everyone pitches in to help out. Where bigger Synagogues in larger cities might be able to pick and choose their membership, smaller communities have to find a way for everyone to fit together.
It’s actually rather wonderful.
A couple of months ago, a man wandered into the shul. No one knew him and he looked pretty bedraggled. One of the Rabbis went out to speak to him and before long it was discovered that this man was indeed Jewish. He was a fisherman, visiting the city for medical care. He had lived most of his life off in a part of Alaska where few visit, fishing. He was rough around the edges, but he was welcomed and a comfortable seat was found for him and a Siddur pressed into his hands. Other men helped him follow the service. In a smaller community, it doesn’t matter how someone is dressed, what their Jewish education might be, or where they may have wandered. Everyone matters and is worth trying to get to know and perhaps bring just a closer to Torah.
In a small community, it’s harder to avoid interacting with people you otherwise might not. You are forced to get to know the women who might initially seem loud and obnoxious, which lets you learn that she also has a huge heart and goes out of her way to help others. You wind up making conversation with the quiet girl you might otherwise not have noticed and learn that she’s taking an enormous amount of classes and is absolutely brilliant and wants to be a doctor to save lives. You learn the family history of the guy who initially seems arrogant and standoffish and discover that his family escaped the communists in Russia, smuggled out Jewish treasures, and has helped the community ever since.
You get to know all the people as more than just what you initially see on the surface and you begin to realize that what you saw on the surface was shaped just as much by your own faults as their own.
To me, that is the very heart of Ahavas Yisroel. By learning to love our fellow Jews in all their complexities, even with their faults, we also learn to love and accept ourselves because what we see in them, is also us.
עמ ישראק חי