One thing I found very interesting is that when Natan discussed the most serious transgressions that were considered very, very bad in Shamayim (1:01:00), and the audience asked him to be more specific, Natan immediately said, “Gaava” – haughtiness, pride, arrogance. “Gaava is a very, very big sin.”
He mentioned this even before mentioning murder, lashon hara, illicit relations, and so on. And at 1:09:00, he mentions that as severe as gaava is for men, it’s even more severe for women. (Just like tsniut is more severe for women, but guarding one’s eyes and personal holiness are more severe for men.)
When pressed by the audience about sinat chinam, he just shook his head. (Sorry I couldn’t find that bit again.)
We know that every mussar sefer addresses the issue of gaava and how Hashem cannot stand a baal gaava. And every sage who has written about this has described how gaava is the root of the most severe transgressions.
And the truth is, the less gaava you have, the less likely you are to hate, get angry, behave cruelly or immorally, and so on.
Connection Confusion: Mixed Signals
Since I’ve become frum, I feel like I’ve been inundated with the need to give the benefit of the doubt in even the most extreme situations, to love beyond all limits, and to forgive generously and apologize profusely. I took this very much to heart as have many others.
But it got to the point that some people were doing very bad things and other very good people insisted on burying their heads in the sand about it, allowing innocent people to be abused or robbed and more.
One very common example of this is with shidduchim or shalom bayis, when one partner starts noticing warning signs or actual abusive behavior and is rebuffed by their friend, rav, or rebbetzin who insists that they must give the benefit of the doubt and even encourages them to blame themselves for the other person’s dysfunctional behavior. Another common situation is in the workplace, where a boss or employee is behaving abusively or unethically, and YOU must give the benefit of the doubt or “buck up and deal with it because all bosses act like that” or because of someone’s position in the company, they have a “right” to treat their co-workers or employees “that way.”
There are unfortunately many more examples I could give. Those were just a couple I've been told about.
Maybe (hopefully!) this hasn't been your experience, but this has been what I and many others have seen.
Any mitzvah can be warped into something anti-Torah.
It got to the point that if I expressed any upset feelings to a frum person about a non-Jewish family member who has never been a nice person, the frum person would start turning cartwheels to get me to give that person the benefit of the doubt when there is absolutely no mitzvah to do so. Once, one person who did this later gave me a vague albeit sincere apology, which was admirable. But I was still left perplexed as to why she felt such a desperate need to get me to view my Esavite relative positively in the first place.
The truth is that over the years, I've been running more and more into people who knowingly hurt others (usually passive-aggressively) and who just aren't sorry. They think they're funny or clever or allowed to avenge whatever terrible sin they imagine you've done (usually the "sin" is not giving them enough kavod, like not agreeing with them when they are wrong or something). It isn’t always clear whether someone actually has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but narcissistic qualities can definitely be identified.
Most of these people were fine and decent people at one time, people who genuinely strived to do the right thing. But at some point, they just gave up and started taking out their aggravations on innocent people. Yes, they have genuine challenges: shalom bayis problems, chinuch problems, fertility problems, problematic parents or in-laws, financial problems, problematic neighbors, health problems, and so on.
There is definitely room for sympathy.
Obviously, Hashem has been whomping us from all sides and it’s exhausting.
But the whole point is to get us to turn to Him, not to turn against others.
Another category consists of people who lash out "just for a moment" and only in situations in which they "just couldn't take it anymore." Except that these "momentary" lapses actually occur with great frequency. (I'm not talking about truly occasional lapses.) While I'm the first to admit that maintaining constant awareness of Hashem every single waking moment is extremely challenging, the fact is that the more you can remind yourself that this person and his or her aggravating behavior is from Hashem and a way to strengthen your emuna, the more you will make unbelievable strides in self-control.
And the current wave of terror in Eretz Yisrael represent both these dynamics.
In fact, psychobabble even calls passive-aggressive comments “sniping.” In the current uprising, Yishmaelites have been coming up to Jews from behind and plunging in a knife. They have been sniping, hitting little Maoz in Lod and a teenage girl in Kochav Yaakov.
On a psychological level, this is exactly what people have been doing to each other.
Yes, it’s true that many of these difficult people suffered difficulties themselves. Some of them have truly heart-breaking life stories.
Yes, it’s true that they don’t really realize how badly they are behaving; they feel truly justified on some level. They feel truly victimized.
But they are still very wrong.
(And some of them are anyway Erev Rav.)
Chazal to the Rescue!
Fortunately, we have Chazal to help us out. I really believe that one major reason why Hashem has whapped me with this kind of thing so frequently was to get me to turn to the original sources, i.e. the Truth.
So...we know that you can't hate them because everything is from Hashem and they are just shalichim, but you aren't really allowed to have anything to do with them, either.
In her book on talking to God, Rivka Levy brought to attention that the first Tehillim warns against associating with reshaim (intentional sinners), chata'im (unintentional sinners), and leitzim (mockers/scoffers).
(Please check out Radak and Malbim’s commentary on the perek for further elucidation.)
Yes, reshaim. Even though they’ve had hard lives and deprivations.
Yes, even chata'im. Even though they don’t know or don't understand.
And yes, even leitzim. Even though they’re just kidding.
Nonetheless, STAY AWAY.
This concept is so important that David Hamelech put it at the forefront of Sefer Tehillim.
Despite all the modern exhortations to remain connected to people (even if they only want a toxic connection) and to forgive people (even if they aren’t sorry) and to give people the benefit of the doubt (even when they mean to hurt you or simply don’t care) and apologize to people (even if they won't forgive or will use it against you, and even if what they did was worse), and to work out differences (with people who cannot compromise or bend), reading original sources told me something very different.
Please don’t misunderstand me: Of course we should judge fellow Jews favorably. And of course we shouldn’t hold grudges or hate in our heart knowing that everything is from Hashem.
But it doesn’t say we should be co-dependent enablers. (That goes into the area of chanifah/flattery and against “in the way of the chataim, he didn't stand.”)
Both the Pele Yoetz (in Chevruta - Friendship as just one example) and Orchot Tzaddikim use proofs from the Gemara and Mishlei to very clearly stress that one should associate with people on a higher level in order to be positively influenced by them while avoiding people on a lower level unless you have the ability to influence them to do teshuvah.
(And you need to be honest with yourself about how much you can really influence them. Frankly, I’ve messed up on this more times than I care to admit. You know why? Because I confused feeling good with actually being good.)
The Kli Yakar even goes into a whole discussion in Parshat Metzora of how people who are both fault-finders (baalei ra’atan – from the word ra’eh, seeing) and discuss the faults they find with others (AKA lashon hara) are actually suffering from a highly contagious incurable brain parasite discussed in the Gemara called ra’atan (Ketubot 77 and Kiddushin 70).
The chances of infection were so high that the Gemara talks about the lengths different sages took to avoid baalei ra’atan, such as not even eating eggs from an alley where such a person lives. There was no cure for this terrible disease except surgery to remove the parasite.
Only Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi was immune because he was a great talmid chacham and learned Torah with the baalei ra’atan.
Fortunately, the Kli Yakar reassures us that there are still ways in our days to fight ra’atan. He says that one can be cured through a great deal of Torah learning while an am ha’aretz can be cured through a broken spirit – meaning sincere regret and a humility that comes from knowing that everything he has is a chessed from Hashem, that impels him to do true teshuvah and turn from his bad deeds – the opposite of gaava.
There is a lot more to say about this subject. But this post is long enough as is. I plan to write other posts about this in the future.
Some excellent advice regarding this whole subject can be found in the Pele Yoetz under the chapter Love of Friends - Ahavat Re'im.
Hava HaAharona has got some brilliant insights and advice regarding sinat chinam that are well-worth checking out (along with lots of other good stuff).
Stabbers, Snipers, and the People Who "Love" Them
Again, I want to emphasize that what is happening in Eretz Yisrael is only a reflection of what we are doing to ourselves. A lot of people resist doing a real cheshbon hanefesh. A lot of people, even chashuv people, genuinely cannot see the reality of their problematic behavior.
They deal with their frustrations via passive-aggressive sniping and behaviors. They plunge in the knife then flee the scene so they don’t get caught. (These are the people who try to twist out of accepting responsibility for their behavior and it’s very hard to pin them down in a discussion with them.)
The rest of the world is standing by or actively defending them by calling them “freedom fighters” or “extremists,” or insisting that each terror attack is just a “one-off” and not representative of a collective Yishmaelite mentality or the rest of the world is actively demanding compassion because the terrorists have “suffered” and have had “hard lives” or and are “angry” or that the terrorists “don’t understand” that what they’re doing is wrong.
- Avoid people who pull you down.
- Daven for those same difficult people. (This awakens compassion within you and actually helps them.)
- Develop an enjoyment of helping people rather than hurting them through sniping and other tactics.
- When faced with difficult people, remind yourself that it's from Hashem and deal with them from that angle.
- If you’re already pretty nice, be VERY careful that you don’t enable or support people who are hurting others. Falling all over yourself to defend a dysfunctional person because he or she has had/is having a hard life or because you’ve been told to honor this person is not a mitzvah but the aveira of chanifah. This includes your parent or rav or rebbetzin, by the way. It feels good to be all pseudo-compassionate, but it may not actually be a good thing to do. (The halacha is also clear that you may not accept non-toelet lashon hara from such people, either.) This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve seen with kind-hearted people who are otherwise well-intentioned and sincere.
- Associate with people who are on a higher spiritual level than you.
- Turn to Hashem rather than turning on others.
And coming back to Natan: It’s reassuring to see how true teshuvah really does erase the sin.
Of course, we don't need Natan or anyone else to tell us this because Chazal already tell us this.
But it was still nice to hear around 1:14:00, Natan mentions that there were sins he committed for which he already repented and they weren’t shown in his Heavenly trial, despite the fact that every second of his life was shown to him and judged.
May we all merit to do true teshuvah and avert these terrible decrees.
And may we suffer no more tragedies.
Guarding the Eyes (Wish I'd read this YEARS ago. It perfectly addresses the exact issue brought up in the post.)