Outreach is part of the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem.
by Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon
Excerpted from With Hearts Full of Faith: Insights into Trust and Emunah, Artscroll
Many people in our times are active in kiruv rechokim, which means reaching out to Jews distant from our heritage and drawing them nearer. For the most part, these activists are extremely dedicated people working through outreach organizations or through their individual efforts, and they are bringing many tens of thousands of Jews back to their spiritual and religious roots and to the profound pleasures of an authentic Jewish life.
All these people are convinced they are doing God’s work, that reaching out to uncommitted Jews is an important mitzvah. And they are right. It is indeed a very great mitzvah. But which mitzvah is it? There is no commandment in the Torah that state, “You shall reach out to uncommitted Jews, and bring them back.” Under which mitzvah heading then does outreach fall? Which mitzvah do we fulfill when we draw distant Jews nearer to God and His Torah?
Some are of the opinion that outreach is included in the mitzvah of tochacha (Lev. 19:17), “Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha, You shall surely rebuke your friend.” According to this opinion, when we see other Jews transgressing the commandments of the Torah, even if they are only doing so out of ignorance, it is our responsibility to enlighten them and encourage them to mend their ways.
In this day and age, if rebuke means to lecture and reprimand, then it is difficult to fulfill the mitzvah of tochacha by rebuking an uncommitted Jew. Virtually all uncommitted Jews today aretinokos shenishbu, blameless innocents brought up in ignorance; the Torah has no more meaning to them than some quaint old parchment scrolls. They have never been taught to recognize the Torah as an authority in their lives. They do not understand that by disobeying the Torah’s commandments they are rejecting God’s authority. Therefore, informing them that what they are doing transgresses the Torah is not considered an act of rebuke. It is rather an act of futility.
The Chazon Ish essentially makes this point with regard to the laws of shechita, ritual slaughter. A mumar, a renegade who transgresses even after being rebuked, is not qualified to performshechita, even while under strict supervision. However, writes the Chazon Ish, an uncommitted Jew in our times is not considered a mumar even if he disregards tochacha, because the tochacha is meaningless to him. Therefore, he may perform shechita under the watchful eye of a supervisor. An informed Jew who is aware of the Torah’s authority and chooses to defy it is considered a mumar. An uninformed Jew is not. Therefore, if today’s uncommitted Jews are not capable of receiving rebuke in their state of being uninformed, it stands to reason that there cannot be a mitzvah to rebuke them.
Where then do we find the mitzvah of Jewish outreach?
The Rambam writes (Sefer Hamitzvos, Asei 3) that outreach is part of the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem, loving God. Every day, we say in the Shema (Deut. 6:5), “And you shall love God your Lord with all your heart…” But how does one express one’s love for God? The Rambam, quoting the Sifrei, gives two answers. One of them is to reach out to as many people as possible and draw them closer to God, to inspire them to serve Him, and have faith in Him. God calls Abraham (Isaiah 41:8) ohavai, “the one who loves Me,” because of (Gen. 12:5) hanefesh asher asu b’Charan, “the following they built up in Charan.” Abraham was the first outreach activist. He worked to instill faith in God and the concept of His unity in everyone he met, and by doing so he expressed his love for God.
The Rambam explains this with a parable. A person has a friend whom he loves dearly. He sees in his friend many admirable qualities – wisdom, humor, sensitivity, loyalty, generosity, kindness and much more – but, to his amazement, other people do not have the same admiration for this friend that he does. His love for his friend does not allow him to accept this state of affairs. If only people knew, he thinks, how wonderful my friend is, they would love him equally well. So he sings the praises of his friend to every person he meets, to every person who will lend him an ear for a few minutes. Don’t you see, he says, don’t you appreciate, don’t you understand? And he doesn’t rest until everyone he knows recognizes the worth of this friend and grows to love him as well.
|If one loves God, he will feel upset that other people do not appreciate God’s greatness and infinite kindness.|
This is the natural reaction, explains the Rambam, of a loving friend. He wants everyone else to have the same appreciation he does for the object of his love. Therefore, if he loves God, he will feel upset that other people do not appreciate God’s greatness and infinite kindness. He will find it appalling that other people have no gratitude to God for all the gifts He bestows on them. He will find it inconceivable that they are unaware of the profound joy inherent in Torah and mitzvos. He will find it unbearable that others do not love God as he does. So he will act to correct the situation. He will reach out and teach and cajole and set an example and inspire until he awakens in the hearts of other people a love that burns as brightly as his own. And in this way, in the grand tradition of Abraham, he expresses his love for God. This is the mitzvah of outreach.
There is yet another source for the mitzvah of Jewish outreach. The Torah tells us (Deut. 22:1-3), “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep roaming wild and look away from them, you shall surely return them (hashev tashiveim) to your brother. And if your brother is not close to you, and you do not know him, then you shall gather it into your house and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it out, then you shall return it to him. So shall you do with his donkey, so shall you do with his garment, so shall you do with any lost object of your brother’s that he loses and you find, you shall not be able to look away (lo suchal lehis’aleim).”
The commandment is not limited to lost objects. It obligates us to do everything in our power to protect other people’s property from damage. We are forbidden to look away when we can do something to help prevent the damage. Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Shaarei Tetshuva (3:70)s, “You shall not be able to look away. This commandment warns us not to be neglectful when it comes to saving someone’s property…. If he sees another’s land about to be flooded, he has to raise up a barricade against the floodwaters, just as we are commanded to save another’s life and to think of ways to help him in his times of trouble…. Should you say, ‘I don’t know about this,’ [God] recognizes the contents of the heart and knows the hidden thoughts, and He repays each person according to his deeds. If he fails to come to the rescue of another or seek ways to help him, the Holy Blessed One considers him to have caused the damage himself.” If we look away, any damage that results is our responsibility.
In these three verses, the Torah uses the words “your brother” five times when once would have been more than enough. The Torah only had to begin with “your brother’s” animal. The pronouns “he,” “him” and “his” would have been enough for the rest of the passage. It seems that the Torah is emphasizing how we must feel about another Jew. Even if “he is not close to you,” even if “you do not know him,” he is your brother. If we are all “children of God your Lord,” as the Torah states (Deut. 14:1), then we are all brothers. And is it possible that a person would stand by idly while his brother’s property is being washed away? Is it possible that he would not work long and frantically to save whatever he can? Perhaps that is why the Torah expresses the prohibition as “you shall not be able to look away” rather than as “you shall not look away.” The Torah does not just forbid you to look away. The Torah commands you to consider every Jew as your brother so that you will be unable to look away.
|If we are responsible for another’s monetary loss, we are certainly responsible for his spiritual loss.|
The Shelah goes a bit further. “The reason for this commandment,” he writes, “is to let us know that if we are responsible for another’s monetary loss, we are certainly responsible for his spiritual loss… The Torah expresses the phrase ‘you shall surely return them’ as hashev tashiveim rather than the more appropriate hachazor tachzireim, because hashava intimates that we must stand guard and toil and struggle until our friend does teshuva, until he returns through repentance. Our responsibility does not allow us to look away.”
If we truly feel that all Jews are our brothers, if we truly feel connected to all the Jewish people with bonds of love, compassion and brotherhood, then how can we stand by and watch them slip away into spiritual oblivion? How can we stand by without drawing them closer to God and His holy Torah, without inspiring them to teshuva? If they are our brothers and sisters, how are we able to look away?
When a person sets out into a field of outreach motivated by a pure love of God, a sincere desire to lift up His honor in the world and a profound compassion for all Jewish people, there is no limit to what he can accomplish. And there is no limit to his zechuyos, the merit he can accumulate in this world.
I heard a story about a certain rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael who was known to be a baal teshuva. This man is a respected talmid chacham. His family and household are models of Torah life. His children are learned, refined, accomplished and have extraordinary middos tovos, good character. He has produced many disciples over the years, some of whom have since gone out on their own to spread Torah and Yiddishkeit. The community has nothing but admiration for this man.
What was his background? Where did he start? What led him to where he is today? It is an extraordinary story.
This man had grown up on an anti-religious kibbutz. He knew nothing about Torah cared even less. All he cared about was enjoying life. When he was eighteen, he decided to taste every forbidden pleasure the world had to offer, and he set about accomplishing this goal systematically. One day, he heard that in a certain place in Haifa there was a pleasure being offered that he had not yet experienced.
He took a bus to Haifa and set off to find the address he had been given. It was in a neighborhood that was far from respectable. He found the house. It bore a sign advertising the pleasures offered within. Just then he saw a Jew dressed in religious garb coming the other way. As he neared the house, the religious Jew caught sight of the immodest sign and instantly turned his head away, lifting his hand to shield his eyes.
The young kibbutznik was shocked. How could someone turn his eyes away from the pleasure being offered? Must be, he reasoned, that this person possessed an even greater pleasure. “That is the pleasure I want!” he declared. On the spot, he turned around and went off to enroll in a yeshiva, where he indeed found the greatest pleasure imaginable. Eventually, he became atalmid chacham, raised a family and established his own yeshiva, an entire world of Torah and mitzvos.
It is an interesting and inspiring story, but one particular aspect of it struck me when I heard it. This religious Jew, the one who turned his head away from what he shouldn’t see, will one day pass away and come before the Heavenly Court to be judged. His sins will be placed on one side of the scale, and his merits on the other. And he will look at the merits piling up in his favor, and he will be confused. “Who are all these people whose mitzvos are being counted for my credit?” he will say. “Who are these hundreds of children whose Torah is being placed on my scale? I don’t know these people. I’ve never seen them in my life!”
“Do you remember that day in Haifa,” he will be told, “when you turned your head away to avoid seeing something you shouldn’t?”
“Vaguely,” he will say.
“Well, at that moment, a secular Jew was watching, and what you did inspired him to become abaal teshuva. Therefore, all his Torah and mitzvos and all the Torah and mitzvos of his children and children’s children and disciples and disciples’ disciples for all generations are to your credit. And all for that one moment of looking away!”
One moment, one small act of righteousness, and the reward is virtually endless. All the positive results that come out of it for all generations are credited to his account in Heaven. Those in outreach, who perform many great acts of righteousness, are certainly accumulating merit without limit on their own scales. Every person they bring back to God and His Torah represents children and grandchildren for all generations, and if this baal teshuva goes into teaching or outreach himself, the merits are multiplied a hundredfold or a thousandfold as time goes on.
The Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Ahavas Hashem 6) writes, “My brother, it is worthwhile for you to know this. A faithful Jew may achieve the ultimate in perfecting himself for God. He may even become like the angels with their superb qualities, their admirable practices, their exertions to serve the Creator and their pure love for Him. But he will never accumulate as much merit as the one who shows people the proper path and reconciles transgressors to the service of the Creator. His merits are multiplied by the merits [of those he has reconciled] and will accumulate for all time.
“Imagine two merchants who come to market, one bearing a single roll of fabric and the other bearing numerous rolls. The merchant who brings only one roll could recover his investment tenfold and still earn only a hundred zuz. The other, however, may only double his investment, but considering the sheer volume of merchandise he has brought to market, he could earn ten thousand zuz.
“In the same way,” the Chovos Halevavos concludes, “a person who perfects only himself gains only a limited amount of merit, but a person who elevates not only himself but others as well multiplies his own merit by all the merit of those he has brought closer to God.”
|Even if a person perfects himself, his merit is miniscule compared to the merit of a person who brings wayward Jews back to their Father in Heaven.|
Listen to these words. Even if a person perfects himself to the point where he is practically an angel, his merit is miniscule compared to the merit of a person who brings wayward Jews back to their Father in Heaven.
Outreach, however, is no simple matter. Many issues must be considered, questions regarding methods, responsibilities and hazards. Although these issues are of particular relevance to outreach activists, the truth is that each of us should aspire to some form of outreach, even if only in a limited way. And if we do feel a love for God that compels us to reach out to people, we need to consider the issues and seek guidance on the questions that arise. The following are a few brief comments regarding a few of the relevant issues. They are not meant to be definitive rulings, but rather to bring these issues to the attention of those who reach out.
THE FIRST STEP
Since the purpose of outreach is to fulfill the mitzvah of loving God, where do we begin? Do we start by showing them the beauty of Shabbat? Do we start by teaching them about putting ontefillin or keeping a kosher kitchen? How do we teach them to love God? What is the first step?
The answer is actually spelled out quite explicitly in the Gemara (Yoma 86a), “It is written (Deut. 6:5), ‘And you shall love God your Lord with all your heart.’ This means that you should cause the Name of Heaven to become beloved among people. A person should learn Torah and Talmud, he should attach himself to Torah sages, and he should deal gently with people. What will people say about him? They will say, ‘Fortunate is his father who taught the people who have not learned Torah. This person has learned Torah – and look! How pleasant are his ways, how perfect his behavior!’ … But if a person learns Torah and Talmud and attaches himself to Torah sages but doesn’t act in good faith and doesn’t speak gently to others, what do people say? They say, ‘Woe to him that learned Torah. Woe to his father who taught him Torah. Woe to his teacher who taught him Torah. This person has learned Torah – and look! How corrupt is his behavior, how despicable his ways.’ ”
The mitzvot that attract the uninitiated to Torah and illuminate the path of their return are themitzvot bein adam l’chaveiro, the commandments that govern relationships with other people. Be kind to other people. Be thoughtful. Be forgiving rather than vengeful. Do not be quick to anger. Be merciful. All these are mitzvot in the Torah as much as tefillin and matzah are. Even more, these are the mitzvot that are most effective in making an impression on other people.
So how do we teach these mitzvot?
Only one way: By example.
If we look closely at the quotation from the Gemara, we notice that spreading love of God is accomplished in two parts. We have to learn Torah and Talmud and attach ourselves to Torah sages, and we have to be kind, gentle and faithful in our relations with other people.
The first part establishes our identity in the eyes of the public. They see our strong connection to Torah. They notice that we study the Written Law and the Oral Law and that we seek our guidance from Torah sages. In this way, we become identified with the Torah in the public mind. And then they see how we behave, how meticulous we are in our dealings with other people, how faithful, how gentle, how loving. And it dawns on them that these two things are not a coincidence. They realize that Torah has this wonderful effect on those who embrace it, and they cry out, “Fortunate is the one who learns Torah. Fortunate are his parents and teachers!”
If we can elicit this reaction from the people to whom we are reaching out, we will have ignited in their hearts a spark of love for God and His Torah. Afterwards, all we need to do is fan this spark into a great flame. This, of course, is far from a simple matter, but the first step is the most important and the most difficult.
THERE CAN BE NO COMPROMISE
Uncommitted Jews will often express interest in the Torah, even though they are not prepared to make a commitment to observance. In such cases, would it be permitted to compromise with them? For instance, would it be all right to tell them to keep Shabbat only at night and carry on as they did before during the day?
In order to answer this question, we have to draw a distinction between compromise, which is absolutely forbidden, and gradualism, which is acceptable and unavoidable.
Every letter of the Torah is inviolate down to the kutzo shel yod, a minute part of the letter yod; we have no right to adapt or adjust the Torah to different times and situations. At the same time, becoming observant requires drastic changes in a person’s life, and in many if not most cases, it must be accomplished gradually, step by step. But you must make it clear to the people that halfway measures are not acceptable as a permanent state. They are no more than intermediate stages on the way to full observance. There is no rush, no pressure. They can take their time and progress at their own comfortable pace. But they must recognize that the goal is full and complete observance of the entire Torah.
R’ Yisrael Salanter spent a lot of time in the German port city of Memel. Jewish merchants from Lithuania would often travel to Memel on business, but most of the local Jewish residents were not observant. They did not keep Shabbat, and one can imagine they did many other things they shouldn’t have been doing.
It is told that during the first months he spent in Memel, R’ Yisrael would get up in shul on Shabbat morning after Shacharit, when preachers customarily addressed the congregation, and say, “Aleh Litvishe Yidden arois. All Lithuanian Jews, please step out.”
After all the Lithuanian Jews had left, he spoke to the German Jews on their level. “My good friends, I know that you are going to leave here when we finish and go to your shops and your businesses. I can’t stop you. But I want you to know that certain things are forbidden mid’Oraisa, by the Torah itself, while others are only forbidden mid’Rabbanan, by Rabbinic decree. At least, try to avoid doing those things that are forbidden by the Torah. You know, you don’t have to carry in the street on Shabbat. Leave everything you need in your place of business and walk there with empty pockets. No handkerchief. No money. Nothing at all. Just walk there with empty pockets and do your business.”
This was R’ Yisrael’s message to the non-observant German Jews. He did not want the Lithuanian Jews to hear him say these things, because they would not have reacted well. The more religious ones would have stoned him, and the weaker ones would have followed his advice to the German Jews and conducted their business on Shabbat. But R’ Yisrael understood that this was what he had to say to the German Jews. This was the language they had to hear. Don’t carry on Shabbat. It was not a compromise, just a small first step. And indeed, in the course of thre years he spent there, he transferred Memel into an observant city.
This important distinction is unfortunately relevant to situations in observant families. Sometimes, children will fall by the wayside for some reason or another and refuse to do what they know is expected of them. For instance, a young boy may stop praying daily. Should his parents pressure him to go to shul three times a day? There really is no point. It won’t happen in a constructive way, and nothing will be gained.
It would be much better to say to the boy, “You have to pray three times a day, but you have a difficulty with that. All right, between you and me, for the time being, we’ll just do Shacharit and put on tefillin. We can do it that way.” He is obviously going through a personal crisis. Telling him it is all right to do just a little bit is not a compromise. It is drawing him back gradually, step by step. Be gentle and understanding. He will get there.
THE VALUE OF A JEW
In the story of Ruth (2:4), we read that when Boaz went out to the fields he greeted his workers by saying, “Hashem imachem. God be with you.” And they replied, “Yevarechecha Hashem. God bless you.” Our Sages tell us that this was the first time the Name of God was ever used in a personal greeting. Boaz greeted his workers in the Name of God, and they responded in kind. After serious deliberation, Boaz and his court had decided it was permitted to do so.
This was no simple matter.
Imagine if you want to say “Good morning” to someone. So you go into the shul, open the aron kodesh, the holy ark, and take out the Torah. Then you walk toward him with the Torah on your shoulder, and you say, “Good morning! It’s so lovely to see you.” Quite unthinkable, one would say.
Using the Name of God in a personal greeting was originally no less scandalous. But Boaz and his court saw a great need. The brotherly feeling among Jews was declining. People were no longer so kind to each other. They did not treat each other with enough respect. So Boaz and his court decreed that the Name of God should be used in greetings, because this would enhance the status of the individual Jew. If the Name of God could be used to greet him, then he certainly deserved to be respected. Why did Boaz and his court consider it permissible to use the holy Name of God to raise the stature of the individual Jews? Because they understood that God loves every single Jew without limit, that He treasures each and every one more than anything else in the world.
In our times, many of the best, brightest and most righteous people of our community, the flower of the Torah world, are investing their time, energy and resources into raising up people who are very, very distant from Torah and Yiddishkeit. It is not a simple thing that they are doing.
But God has shown us that there is no limit to the value of each individual Jew, that it is worthwhile to use the holy Name of God to gain him a little more respect. And if so, it is worthwhile for us to reach out to those Jews who are distant from God and His Torah. Each individual Jewish soul in which the love for God and His Torah is awakened is precious beyond measure. No price is too high to pay. No sacrifice is too great. And the reward is eternal and without limit.