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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Step # 2

Part 1

לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך

You shall not hate your brother in your heart (Vayikra 19: 17)

When introducing step #2 to my students I explain that the seven steps proceed in order of difficulty. Now that we know from step #1 that we are supposed to treat one another with love, let us learn what to do about those people who are so very difficult to love because they behave in ways that are improper or even hurtful to both the individual and the community. They are, in fact, people about whom we might say: “I hate that person!”

I then proceed to tell the students the following story:

A few short years after the conclusion of World War II, a young Jewish girl about 10 years of age was sitting in her classroom in a school in Switzerland. Her stern teacher would often make disparaging comments about Jews. It was not long after the Holocaust had taken place, and although Switzerland declared itself neutral during the war it was not a friendly country toward Jews. The young girl, worried about calling attention to herself yet wanting to change her teacher’s attitudes, started to think about what she might do.

I then ask the students to imagine what they think she did that would not make her teacher angry with her. Here’s what actually happened:

She went home and, that night, wrote in great detail about the long history of Jewish persecution. When she was finished, she brought it to her teacher and said, “I am weak in spelling. Could you correct this?”

The students are often surprised at her cleverness, and more so when they learn that she grew up to become the president of Switzerland.

Dealing With Feelings of Hatred

If a person has hatred inside himself it is a condition that is very difficult to live with. However, once a person is able to express himself, the hatred can be extinguished.

What does the Torah mean when it says we are not permitted to hate someone in our heart? This pasuk continues that instead we must correct that person but not bear a sin because of him. This appears to be a very difficult challenge. Here’s what our rabbis teach us:

The answer, says the “Mayana Shel Torah,” is that harboring needless hatred in one’s heart and failing to rebuke our brethren both reflect an absence of love. The more we truly care for others, the more successful and effective will be the result.

Additionally, the Rambam warns us to avoid embarrassing someone when giving a rebuke. When correcting a person’s behavior we must do it in a soft voice, indicating that our efforts are for his best interest.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler expands upon this concept with this meaningful insight: A person’s rebuke must come from the depths of one’s heart because only then will it find its way into the sinner’s heart. This level of commitment is continuously reinforced as we strive to always keep in mind that we are all created b’tzelem Elokim, in Hashem’s image. Our rabbis also instruct us to approach the task of correcting others with an appropriate degree of humility. This follows their penetrating admonition, קשוט עצמך ואחר קשוט אחרים—improve yourself before improving others. Finally, the key to successfully following step #2 is to think back to step #1. If we treat others the way we ourselves would like to be treated, then we would certainly be careful about the way we attempt to correct their behavior.

One of the joys of having taught the seven steps to mentschhood is receiving feedback from parents regarding their child’s application of its principles. Not too long ago I heard from a parent whose family made aliyah as her daughter was entering fifth grade. As is often the case at that age, it was difficult for her to gain friendship and social acceptance. After a while the concerned mother asked her daughter how things were going. She responded that she had actually solved her problem herself by using the mechanism of the “I” message she had learned in my class.

What Is an “I” Message?

An “I” message is a way of stating how you feel without attacking the other person. There is a simple four-step format for delivering and “I” message: 1) Use the person’s name, 2) tell how you feel, 3) tell why and 4) tell what you want. For example: “Shani, I feel embarrassed every time you speak about me behind my back. Please be a better friend and stop.”

There are a few things to keep in mind when delivering an “I” message. It is important to remember that the offender may not stop the first time the message is given. It may take several attempts, but eventually the other person will get tired of trying to upset you and will stop. When giving an “I” message, always do it quietly and with no one else nearby. Keep in mind that an “I” message can help with brothers and sisters as well.

We will learn more about preventing hatefulness next time in step # 2, Part II.

Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years. Most recently he was the director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating young Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood: How to Help Your Child become a Mentsch.” Email him at stanley.fischman @gmail.com  with any questions.