Making Friends out of Enemies

by | Feb 5, 2016 | 0 comments

“If I could give only one bit of advice to my students, I would tell them that whenever they meet someone new, no matter who it is, they should try to find at least one thing that they like about that person.” (Rav Yisroel Salanter)

Once you don’t like someone, that person can do no right. They walk wrong, they talk wrong, even the way they tilt their hat gets on your nerves.

In this week’s Parsha we find the verse “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall certainly help him repeatedly.”

Who do we hate?

The sages explain that the verse refers to someone evil, whom we are therefore permitted to hate. The Torah is presenting a real life dilemma. Suppose, while walking down the street or driving on the highway one chances upon two people that are stuck, a friend and an enemy, a good person and an evil one, both in the same predicament. One must skip over his righteous friend and offer assistance to the hated enemy! Why should we forsake our friend? The Talmud explains that this is a spiritual exercise which can be used to subdue one’s negative proclivity to shun those who we dislike.
In other words, the Torah has uncovered a deep phenomenon. When I see my enemy in trouble or pain, I derive a silent subconscious joy. A little voice inside me says ‘He’s getting what he deserves. Why interfere with G-d’s justice? He is a sinner!” To this the Torah instructs us: ‘Don’t listen to that little voice. It is just the negativity within you that is speaking. Help the fellow out!’
Let’s take it a step further. The verse refers to someone evil, whom it is permitted, and even a mitzvah, to hate. What am I doing wrong if I am doing a mitzvah?

The answer is that even if there is a mitzvah to hate someone for what he or she has done wrong, it has to stop there. Human nature causes the hatefulness to spread upon our victim until we can find absolutely nothing good about that person. Everyone has at least one redeeming factor, and we can’t find it! Because once you don’t like someone, that person can do no right. They walk wrong, they talk wrong, even the way they tilt their hat gets on your nerves. A little bit of justified hate can bring with it ten times as much causeless hate. This is the hate that the Torah deems as unacceptable. This is the hate that destroyed Jerusalem.

This was behind the advice of Reb Yisroel Salanter. Don’t let people cancel themselves out. Look at the whole picture. And remember, there is always something good to see. Let the good overtake you instead of the negativity that loves to spread.

We see so many problems. There are problems with families, problems at work, and problems in the community. There are partisan problems in Israel, which have gotten way out of hand. We have developed an ‘us and them’ mentality where our right hand is competing against our left.

Imagine how much different things would be if we would try to notice just one nice thing about our spouse, our children or our parents every day. Think about how the household would change if we would compliment our spouses, children and acquaintances at least once a day. And it need not be bogus, for we will certainly find something genuine to compliment them about, if only we take the trouble to look. Imagine how much better we would feel if we would focus on the positive instead of the negative in people. Imagine how much different Klal Yisroel would look if even as we recognized evil, we refrained from letting that evil define the person.

An exercise: think of the person you dislike the most in this world, and remind yourself why you hate him or her (if you can remember). Now think of something, anything, nice about that person. If you can, tell them about it. You have just lifted a heavy weight from your heart – when you let go of anger and hate, you actually feel a lightness of spirit. You have just fulfilled a mitzvah in our Parsha. You have just made a fundamental change in your Neshama.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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