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Da Et Atzmcha (8) Giving & Loving Even when Difficult

We will summarize very briefly the ideas presented until this point. In the first talks, we focused primarily on the work of hachna'ah and havdalah. In the last talk, we began to speak of the work of hamtakah. The first point mentioned regarding hamtakah was the concept of giving. Hamtakah is the process of uniting and merging with all of creation: first, with all Jews, then, with all the peoples of the world, and after that, even with the animals, plants, and inanimate objects.


As mentioned, giving is not an end unto itself, but is for the sake of removing the desire to take. There is a natural interconnectedness and unity among all of creation. But one's desire to take generates a separation between himself and another. By giving, and by deepening the personal desire to give, a person removes from himself the desire to give, and then naturally, he unites with others.


We will now take this a step further. When a person comes in contact with others, there are two general reasons why it might be difficult to connect with them. One kind of difficulty stems from the evil he discovers in another person. He senses negative character traits, unrefined elements of the personality, and he recoils from the recognition of this evil element in the other person and does not want to connect to him.


The second thing that prevents a person from connecting with another is the difference between them. Just as people have different faces, they have different views and personalities (Berachot 58a). So even if the other person has good character, the difference in personality that one notices in him make it different to connect to the person.


We will try to explain how these factors should not prevent one from connecting with another. As long as a person lives with himself, with a desire to take, this whole issue is irrelevant to him. The reason he does not connect to another is unrelated to that person, but because he is involved with himself, thinks about himself, cares only about himself, and therefore, is lacking a real ability to connect. His self-interest is the real cause for his separateness.


After a person makes himself a giver and removes the root of separation from his perspective, he is a person ready to unite and merge with others. Then, he will find people whom it is easier to connect with, and others whom it is more difficult to connect with.


As long as one's desire is to take, he cannot really connect with anyone. If he seems to be uniting with someone, he is not really uniting, but joining with that person in order to take something from him. He joins for his own sake, which is not unity, but separation. Therefore, it is clear that the stage we are discussing now comes only after a person has established himself as a giver, and can then unite and merge with others. Once he is such a person, then there is a distinction: some people are easier to join with, and some people are more difficult to join with.


We will now focus on removing these obstacles. We will begin with the first reason why it might be difficult for a person to join with another. Every single person has some aspect that is not perfect. If a person would be perfect, he wouldn't be here any more; he would be at his eternal rest in Gan Eden, according to the level fit for him. But if a person is still here, he must have aspects that are not yet perfect. Some people have a good basic nature. Certainly, there are some noticeable negative points, but they are overshadowed by the good. But there are other people whose emotional state is not so evidently positive. Chazal refer to this situation as (Bava Batra 16a), "You have created righteous people, and You have created wicked people." There are some people born with mostly positive qualities, with only a few leading negative ones, but there are others born with qualities that are closer to the negative side. Those with better character have a good heart, are easygoing, and have a positive attitude, so it is generally easier to unite with them. But those who naturally have anger and look at things with negativity and criticism, and are suspicious of others, and such, are difficult to join with.


It would be a simple for a person to say, "I will befriend those who are easy to join with, and other people can go on their way to find other friends." But this is certainly not the goal: "They all came together in the covenant, saying in unison, We will do and we will listen'" (Zemirot Shabbat). If even one person were missing at Mount Sinai, there would not have been a proper acceptance of the Torah. The Jewish people is one nation, 600,000 souls "camped opposite the mountain" (stated in the singular form, vayichan), "as one person with one heart" (Shemot 19:2 with Rashi). One has no right to say, "I will unite only with people who are easy, pleasant, and similar to my nature." Certainly, that will be the natural place to start. But the true perspective of the soul should be to attain unity with all of the Jewish people, and then, with all of mankind, as we mentioned.


How can a person unite with those people if there are disturbances, and he finds in front of himself a negative type of character? We spoke earlier of rectifying the thought by separating the good from evil, and that one should not even allow a thought of evil to reside in his consciousness. We elaborated on the principle, and need not review, but will apply it here. A person meets a Jew at an intersection. Instead of receiving from him a greeting of "Good morning," he hears a roar, with many "blessings" showered upon him. Naturally, the reaction to the outburst from the facing car window will be to have a negative perspective. "Maybe I made a small error in my driving, and for this, blessings' pour on me like a torrential rainstorm." He immediately looks at this person and says to himself, "Where does this guy come from? So I made a mistake! What happened? Is this how a person should act?" He will immediately consider him an angry and impatient person. He doesn't know what the person went through in his life, but his natural attitude about the person will be negative.


How do we deal with this? There are some very profound approaches, but we will start with something simple. When a person has a negative feeling about another, if he still has a lot of evil within himself, his own evil will be awakened by the evil before him, and he will focus on the evil in the other person. But after a person has removed the evil elements from his acts, feelings, and thoughts, as mentioned before, when he meets a negative point in another individual, it is relatively easy to direct his mind away from the evil he noticed in another. When he becomes aware of the evil (depending on the speed of his awareness), he notes that he is thinking of something evil, and immediately directs his attention elsewhere, to the best of his ability.


We are not speaking here of judging the other favorably, but of an entirely different way. When the thought is negative, even if your assessment that the other has terrible qualities is true, why think of another person's bad qualities? If you think of his evil, it will damage you; you will be placing your mind in a sewer. The very thought of evil is destructive, so even if the other guy is 100% evil, why think about it?


Once the person is aware of his thought process, he will direct his thought elsewhere, to positive things. "He sees no evil in Yaakov (the Jewish nation) and no offense in Israel" (Bemidbar 23:21). That is to say, there are sins, but G-d doesn't look at them, and we should learn from His ways, and even when seeing evil, whether bad deeds or bad qualities, one should try to direct his mind to a completely different matter. This is a simple approach, but it is very positive stage in one's avodah.


Here is a deeper approach: We mentioned earlier that a person is a composite of body and soul, actually, a soul with the garment of a body. The basis of removing evil from a person is the faith that the soul is purely good and all the elements of evil present in a person are garments over the soul. When a person has internalized this concept and used it to rectify the acts, feelings, and thoughts, if he notices evil in another, he can't take a knife and cut it (i.e. use a double standard). Just as he identifies himself as good, with the evil aspects being only garments, so too, when seeing evil in another - after taking his mind off it and calming down, or when he is in any case calm because it is someone else who is the victim of the hostility - he should consider, "All these negative qualities do not define the person before me. This person, deep down, is a good soul, with negative garments over it. These garments do not change the person into evil. They make him into a good person with bad garments that should be removed."


These ideas are just definitions, but when a person uses these definitions, he will uncover a deep love for others. If a person has not worked on himself in this way, he has a perspective of a body and sees another as he sees himself. Just as he sees himself as a body, so does he see another, and when seeing evil, he attributes it to the "I" of the person before him. He surely wouldn't unite with him, because only a wicked person would unite with evil. But if he has developed himself over a very long period of time to look at himself as truly good in spite of all the evil he may discover in himself, he must spread this light outward to all of mankind. He may not keep this perspective for himself: "I am good, and my evil aspects are garments, but they are really bad!" No! "Just as my evil is only a garment, and my essence is good, so is it with the other person. His very essence is good." When one contemplates and delves into this, and it takes root in his heart, there is an absolute guarantee that he will be able to love even evildoers.


The verse says (Tehillim 97:10), "Those who love G-d should hate evil." The commentators note that it does not say to hate the evildoers, but the evil. One should hate their evil, but not their essence. If a person sees himself as a soul that is essentially good, and spreads this light to others, he can love every single person, even one who has qualities that are negative, who even acts upon them (a real murderer). Even cursed murderers have a good basis, but they have a negative element covering them. The holy Ba'al Shem Tov said that the work of the Mashiach will be to express real love even to the absolutely wicked people.


As long as one does not believe that he is good, he cannot believe that another is good. Only a person that believes that his own essence is good, and accustoms himself to give and not take (thereby removing the veil of the "I") will be able to expand the light outward toward another. A person who has worked on himself to see himself as good, but still has a habit of taking and not giving, will find a barrier created by his desire to take. Such a person might think of himself as good, with a bad garment, but of another individual as inherently bad. Why? Because he has set up a barrier between himself and another. His desire to take makes him a distinct entity, so although he knows that he is good with an evil garment, he will not be able to apply that attitude toward others. The desire to take is a barrier, and he wants to keep the goodness for himself. His eye will be like that of Bilaam, "an evil eye" (Avot 5:19). Only if he has also developed a desire to give can he expand the good found in him to another, and by doing so, he will see the entire creation as good. This expansion of goodness to the whole world will bring out in him the world of inner, true love that unifies all of the creations.


If one has hatred toward another, either he personally does not see himself as good with an evil garment, or he does see himself as such, but he has a basic desire to take, and this prevents him from the ability to expand his attitude about himself toward others. If one sees himself as good and has a habit of giving and not taking, his soul will definitely be able to love everyone in the world.


Of course, this cannot come quickly; there is a gradual process. The more one delves into the idea and deepens the desire to give (in the mind and heart), the more will he sense love toward others. When looking at things superficially, it certainly seems that there is no such concept as loving bad people. People say, "Let him die for his sin! He should pay for what he did!" Without a doubt, there must be punishments, because "without the fear of the government," the world could not continue, because "one would swallow the other alive" (Avot 3:2). But if one is a judge on a capital court of 23 judges, and he rules that a criminal must be put to death, but his soul doesn't love him, he has a murderous desire deep down. If his soul loves the criminal, there is no contradiction to a death penalty: he loves him, but the criminal must be judged according to the law. Without inner love, though, if one decides to put someone to death, he doesn't really recognize the other person's existence, since he is immersed in himself.


The mashgiach (spiritual leader) of the Mir yeshivah, Rav Yerucham, said this deep comment: "No one in the world is able to murder. But we know that almost each day, there is murder, throughout all the generation! When one murders, he does not sense that the other person exists." He is immersed in himself. If he would really sense the other person's existence, he could not kill him. But by being so involved in his own life, it is as if the other does not exist. Not that he has no idea that there is another person here, but he doesn't have a real sense of the other's existence. His life revolves around himself. But by removing the barriers, one senses the other's existence, and even if that person has piled one crime on top of another, though he must be put in his place, the need to punish should not harm the love toward that person.


When Avshalom tried to kill his father, King David, did David have love for his son? He certainly did, because a father cannot uproot the love for his son, even if he wants to. This is a natural love, which might weaken, but yet it remains in the soul. In spite of the mortal danger, the love remained.


A person's avodah is to remove the desire to take and uncover the desire to give, and then, he will uncover a strong love toward another, and even evil in the other will not get in the way of the love. The love will show that the other is good, with bad garments. These garments surely cause a degree of disturbance, but as Chazal say (Bereishit Rabbah 55:8), "Love destroys boundaries." If one has no love, any disturbance will be a cause for remaining separate, or for becoming disconnected if there already was a bond. But if there is strong love between people, even if there are negative qualities, the love will overshadow the negative qualities.


We see that if a married couple has developed a true and deep relationship, even if one discovers a fault in the other, he/she will overlook it, because the love is stronger. Hence, if one wants to connect to another, it is not enough to judge favorably. It's true that if one meets someone in a street who is yelling and screaming, he can judge favorably that the person might be miserable and may have undergone all kinds of difficulties that we don't know about, but how could he feel connected to the person? Only if one follows the method we have mentioned does he build a world of goodness in himself and remove the barriers between himself and others by desiring to give and not take. Then, he will uncover a world of love, and the evil will shrink in proportion to the growth of the love.


I hope that these ideas do not seem too distant from your souls. At first, they might be distant, because people are immersed in themselves, either in material or in spiritual pursuits. Alternatively, there are people who help others from morning to night, and they open up charitable organizations, but they never uncovered their own souls.


Hence, a person immersed in his material concerns will certainly not love another. And even one immersed in his own spiritual concerns cannot yet love another, because he seeks mitzvot and spirituality for himself. But even one who is always helping people, by working for ZAKA (an emergency response team in Israel) or another organization, but still has no inner sense of the soul, is yet a body without a soul. He can do acts of kindness from morning to night, and even be on call at night, 365 days a year, but to whom is he connecting? Just as he sees himself as a body, so does he see others, and since the body of another person has evil, he cannot connect to him. Without a doubt, if one is giving without self-interest, it will diminish strife, but it cannot yet develop a person with the inherent ability to unite with others.


There is a kind of person who spends eight hours a day helping others, but if someone will slightly disturb him, he will let out terrible screams. How could this be? On one hand, he is bestowing and giving a lot, but on the other hand, he won't forgive for a minor thing! The answer is that his body is giving, but he has not exposed his soul, and so, he cannot unite with another. Unity with another requires that one first reveal the inner spiritual self within, and then identify its presence in others. Then, one can unite.


We have explained thus far the first hindrance to unity between people (i.e. negative qualities found in others). We mentioned, though, that there is a second kind of hindrance to unity: the differences between people. Even when a person meets another with a fine basic nature, the two might have character traits that are diametrically opposed. For example, if one is extremely organized, and he meets another whose actions could not be defined as particularly orderly (to say the least) he will find it difficult to deal with the person. They may have an appointment, and the man shows up forty-five minutes late. They will be working together on a document, and one will ask, "Where is it?" The other will put his hand on his head, saying, "Where did I put it? I don't remember!" And they can't find it. It will be difficult to unite with such a person. Even if he knows that the person has a good heart and really wants to help and give, it is practically very hard to work with him, and he becomes inwardly disturbed by the relationship.


Another example: There are people who are full of vigor and zeal. Such an individual meets someone who is very slow and calm, doing everything slowly, moving at he pace of a turtle. Even if that slow person's desire is very good, and he has good character, they cannot work together. Each one has a unique mental construct about how to work. I do not suggest that these two start a business together, but one must be able to unite with all Jewish souls (at first, and then, beyond that, as mentioned). We will spend some time explaining how to do this.


In our world, not everyone has the same kind of personality. Sometimes, the differences are minor, but sometimes, the differences are radical. What benefit can come from joining with someone with a radically opposite personality? An organized worker, for example, sees orderliness as a central element of any task. But Chazal (Avot 4:1) tell us that we can learn from everyone, as it says, "I have gained wisdom from anyone who can teach me" (Tehillim 119:99). Yet this person thinks that there is nothing to learn from a disorganized scatterbrain. He is prepared to learn from him other points, but in that area, he feels that his quality is better, so why would he need to learn from that other person?


It would seem that he is correct. But you must know that in depth, it is not really so. The Talmud (Chagigah 12a) states that when Adam HaRishon was created, his size was "from one end of the world to the other." After he sinned, G-d diminished him, as it says (Tehillim 139:5), "You placed Your hand upon me," until he became 120 cubits. Certainly, he did not literally fill the whole world, because if he did, there would be no room for the mountains, deer, and gazelles. In the six days of creation, G-d created other beings. If Adam had filled the whole world, there would be no room for anything else! But the Sages certainly meant to say that conceptually, he filled the whole world, though not in a physical sense.


What does this mean? We will give an example concerning orderliness. Certainly, order is very important, but order is the ability to limit things. If a person wants to store important documents, he will place them in a binder and put the binder in a secure place; if he is more nervous, he will put them in a safe. He has defined a specific place for the document; it will be there, nowhere else. Order always places limitations. A person in his own body is very limited, depending on one's height and width. But a person's inner purpose is to unite with all of creation - even with animals, plants, and inanimate objects, after he has joined with all people. A person's avodah, deep down, is to expand his borders.


Before one marries, he has the border of a bachelor. Once he marries, he expands his border. "They shall become one" (Bereishit 2:24). The prior border dissolves, and they receive a new and broader border. Then, thank G-d, they have children, and that border dissolves, to be replaced by a broader one. These are superficial, material borders. But in depth, a person should return to the pristine state of "filling the world from one end to the other."


How did Adam fill the world? It's not that he was very tall, like Og (the giant), king of Bashan. Rather, his soul united with everything. So that one can unite, he must expand his borders. If a person takes care to focus only on his own qualities, and wants to only unite with people with similar qualities - orderly like he is, working at his pace, thinking basically like he does - he remains in his own boundaries. But that was not how G-d created the world. The Creator wants a person to expand.


Here is a simple example: There are people who like to raise animals, each one depending on the animal he likes. What is the real reason for this? Some say that it is because a cat never screams, so it is easily to get along with. But what is the real reason? A person naturally needs to broaden himself. If he meets people, and cannot broaden into them, because there is some opposition, he takes animals and tries to broaden through them. But this is the basic nature of a person: he wants to broaden himself. A person desires to build a home and have children. He wants to expand his business. A person's nature is to expand. But some place limits on themselves: "I will join with that person, because he is like me, but with that one I won't, because he's not like me." Although he is expanding his field of operation by the very fact of relating to others, the degree of his expansion is very minimal.


The more a person understands that the soul needs to expand, and that the expansion comes through removing the borders in the soul, if he is an inward person, he will at times make a point of specifically relating to someone with a completely opposite personality. He will fashion expansiveness through the differences he discovers in the other. He may be vigorous and active, but he will choose to work on a project with someone calm, quiet, and slow. They get up in the morning with plans to do something, and it takes time; things don't go as planned. But the expansiveness he will attain by learning to tolerate slowness will become an acquired quality in the soul. This is not just a matter of if the job was done or not. Until now, he had a quality of alacrity, and now, he has acquired the ability to be slow. He has expanded the borders in his soul.


Here is a tangible illustration: If a person is placed in a dungeon of 70cm length and width, with a height of 1.9 m, and provide a little food and water (and if he wants, a bit more), it will be very difficult for him to be there, not just because he wants to lie down. The very need to be in an area broader than 70 by 70 cm will destroy him. Just as a bird in a cage seeks freedom, so does every person seek freedom. About 30% of the country is now (in the summer) abroad, each looking for some other place in the world. This is from an inner need to expand, to be free, to go. But a person can express this in a material way, and he can express this in an inner, spiritual way. When a person identifies himself as a body, he seeks to physically expand. He seeks a three-story villa. He wants to buy property, or travel abroad. He interprets the desire to expand according to the tools of his body. But if one sees himself as a neshamah, he knows that his attributes are his boundaries, and although he is proud of his orderliness (and it is praiseworthy), it is also a constricting factor of his soul, and his alacrity, while positive, is his limitation, because he cannot tolerate the opposite of alacrity.


If a person lives as a body, he doesn't even notice the inner borders in himself. He senses no boundary. To the contrary, he thinks that joining with different types of people will constrict him. But if a person uncovers his neshamah, he will sense that his qualities are his boundaries. They limit him to a certain kind of activity, and do not allow him to expand. When one understands this (and it is deep and subtle), he understands that he must expand through joining with those who are different. No one finds a spouse exactly like him; this exists only in one's imagination, before he gets married. Once you get married, you see that there are huge differences between you and your spouse. A person will be sure that only in his case did it happen that such disparate people married each other. But that is always the case, in truth. Any therapist who has worked with two or three couples knows this fact. This is the fact, everyone is different. The world is built in a way that there are differences. It's not an accident; it's not for no reason. If a person does not develop himself to be able to join with opposite personalities, he hurts not only others, but the perspective of his own soul. He limits himself.


He is like a small child, 70 or 80 cm tall, who takes a pill so that he won't grow any more. There are those who might take it if they are already 1.9 m, but if you give it to a small child, he will not grow any more. A person looks at his qualities, considers them good (and is often correct), and is not ready to join with opposite personalities. This refusal to join with such people limits one's growth.


When a person understands this deeply, and knows that he develops through joining with very different types of people, he will come to attain pleasure and joy when meeting with people different from him. In the past, he would have sensed an opposition to this. But when he yearns for expansion, and meets an opposite nature, he will see it as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. Throughout life, he will meet more and more such people, and each meeting will develop him. He will feel, after working for two weeks with such a person, an appreciation and liking for him, although at first, he thought, "Anyone but him!" Gradually, the outer covers will shrink, and the quality of inner love will conquer more and more.


Of course, this is a very long process, demanding contemplation, attention, and carefully measured steps. If one rushes into this, at some point, he will recoil from the opposing element, and retreat back into his shell, to never leave it. But if he advances in a proper gradual way, he will build a world of inner love and unity with all people, and then expand it to animals and plants. Even a plant has a kind of soul, and sensitive people can feel unity with the plant world - not like those people who like plants because of their own personality; rather, sensitive people feel the inner unity. After that, "the stone will cry out from the wall" (Chavakuk 2:11), as he will sense the sound of an object and feel one with it, as well. This might now all seem distant and illusory, but when a person uncovers the inner energy in creation, first in himself, and then, beyond, he will unite with all of creation.


The goal of creation is to be one, in which "the wolf will live with the lamb" (Yeshayahu 11:6), with no aggression, but only natural unity - not what is called today "a cold peace," but an inner, natural unity. All the stages we have been discussing are for the sake of reaching the level of a sense of unity with all of creation.


Basic points that emerged from the question and answer period:


  1. You cannot just hear a talk about the importance of giving and then try to immediately change the way you live. This will fail. You must first think deeply about it, and realize that it is shameful to live as a taker, and only then, can you appreciate the need to be a giver. One cannot rise to a higher level unless he feels that the current level is intolerable. Then, he can attain the higher perspective, and gradually, apply it into action.


  1. Although there is a principle that the heart is affected by the actions (as in Sefer HaChinuch, 95), it will not work unless one contemplates and really appreciates the value he is trying to instill. We cannot ignore the principle of "Know today, and take it to heart" (Devarim 4:39). A person has thoughts, feelings, and actions. The goal is to perfect the feelings, but one must do so through the thoughts and actions. One cannot succeed without both.



  1. We cannot decide on our own how to unite with others; one who does is liable to sin with all kinds of illicit relationships. We must unite according to the standards given by the Creator in the halachah. In India, people made up their own ideas about unity, but we learned at Mount Sinai the way we must do it. One cannot unite through a sin. The Tanya writes (ch. 8) that "issur" (prohibition) is related to "beit ha'asurim" (prison), because it confines a person, and prevents unity. Any value discussed here or by another speaker must be taken in conjunction with the laws in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).


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