The Greatness of Loving Your Fellowman

It is written, “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them…” (Leviticus 21:1). The Sages have stated, “ ‘Say to the priests’ – this is what Scripture says: ‘The words of the L-RD are pure words’ [Psalms 12:7]. Each time that the Holy One, blessed be He, warns the Children of Israel concerning their holiness and purity, these are Hashem’s words, pure words” (Tanhuma, Emor 1).

Consequently, the Torah’s intention here is to warn a person to guard his tongue so as to speak a pure language. To understand just how important this is, let us examine an incident that occurred to Rabbi Israel Salanter Zatzal. One day, during the time of the year when selichot are recited, Rabbi Israel went to synagogue to pray Shacharit. On the way he encountered a man with a noble, radiant look on his face. He had just spent the entire night in synagogue reciting selichot and tikkunim, and the fear of the day of judgment was upon him. Rabbi Israel approached him and said hello, but the man was so engrossed in his thoughts and concerns over “who will die and who will live” that it was as if he didn’t see him. In fact he didn’t even respond to Rabbi Israel’s greeting, but instead continued on his way.

Rabbi Salanter walked up to the man and said, “Sir, you should realize that what is of primary importance to Hashem is not mitzvot between man and G-d, but mitzvot between man and man. Yom Kippur does not procure atonement for sins that one commits against other people [Yoma 85b]. Therefore why didn’t you respond when I said hello? What do you have to lose with a friendly hello in return? How is it going to ruin your concentration on the day of judgment? It’s precisely the opposite, for I could have removed every harsh decree from you if you had simply responded with a friendly hello.” These words are quite shocking. In fact people often put a supreme effort into fulfilling mitzvot, yet when things come to a head – when their spirituality is put to the test – that is when they fail. Many people pray with great concentration, yet when they leave the synagogue they don’t care at all about others. From the above story, we learn that people must not act like this. We must also fulfill our duties toward other people, which include responding to them with a friendly greeting.

This concept allows us to understand the connection between Parshiot Kedoshim, Emor, and Behar. On the verse, “You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2), Rashi explains: “Separate yourselves from sexual immorality and from sin.” Now we know that if a person wants to purify himself from sexual immorality, he must watch what he says, for the covenant of the tongue is connected to the covenant of circumcision (see the holy book Beit Israel from the Rebbe of Ger, who deals with this subject in detail). We find this concept at work in the sin of the golden calf, as it is written: “They got up l’tzachek [to play]” (Exodus 32:6). Here the Sages explain that the term tzachek implies sexual immorality and bloodshed (see Tanhuma, Tisa 20 and Rashi). This means that when we laugh aloud, we also fall into debauchery. This is why, immediately afterwards in Parsha Emor, the Torah warns us about speech (“Say…and you shall say”), as mentioned in the Midrash we cited above (Tanhuma, Emor 1). Hence a person must guard his tongue, which includes his attitude toward others by greeting them properly, with a proper mouth and pure words. In that case he can completely sanctify and purify himself.

How can a person be certain that what he says will always be pure? It is by keeping in mind that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. This means that he must recall that Mount Sinai humbled itself, which is precisely why the Torah was given upon it (Sotah 5a; Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro). A person should also learn from Mount Sinai to humble himself before Hashem as well as other people, in which case the Torah will endure with him (Taanith 7a). Moses learned to humble himself from Mount Sinai, and of him it is written: “The man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). A person can then rest assured that his words will be pure, for a humble person never becomes angry, and therefore nothing shameful will leave his mouth. No pride is found in him, for that would go completely against the characteristic of humility.

We can say with confidence that the verse in question, with its repeated use of the term emor (“emor [say]…v’amarta [and you shall say]”) deals with the relationship between man and his fellowman. If we speak to someone, yet he ignores what we say, we should repeat it. How? With pure words, with humility, for words that come from the heart enter the heart. The Sages assure us that the words of every G-d-fearing person will not be ignored (Berachot 6b). Furthermore, they have explained that the repetition of the term emor is a warning to the old concerning the young (Yebamot 114a). If a person is great in Torah, he must not think that he can demonstrate pride around his disciples. Instead, emor v’amarta, he must act humbly with them and speak to them gently (this is the meaning of emor, as the Sages have taught). On the verse, “Thus tomar [you shall say] to the house of Jacob” (Exodus 19:3), the verb le’emor indicates gentle words, pronounced without raising one’s voice (Zohar I:16a), with gentleness and humility. The Sages tell us (Tanhuma, Tzav 13) that the root amar always indicates supplication, as it is written: “Vayomer [And he said], ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act wickedly’ ” (Genesis 19:7). Hence this is the connection between Parshiot Kedoshim, Emor, and Behar, humility and love for others being what binds them all.

We find a very instructive story in the Gemara concerning Rabbi Pereda, who would teach a lesson 400 times to one of his students. If, for whatever reason, that student still didn’t understand a lesson, Rabbi Pereda would teach it to him another 400 times! For this he was rewarded with 400 extra years of life, and both he and his generation merited a share in the World to Come (Eruvin 54b). From here we learn a great principle, namely that a person who gets angry cannot be humble. We see this with Moses, who was the most humble of all men, and yet the Sages said that he became angry on three occasions. When that happened, the Halachah immediately escaped him, for his anger was disruptive.

The strife that we regrettably see today demonstrates that we are in the time immediately preceding the arrival of Mashiach (see Sotah 49b). The Satan knows perfectly well that if people were in grow in love for one another, Mashiach would arrive at any minute, for the sin of baseless hatred will have been rectified (Yoma 9b). It therefore uses its last weapon to divide people, which is why division is so rampant today, more than ever before. We must realize that now is precisely the time when we must be extremely watchful to love our fellowman and avoid speaking Lashon Harah, especially now, in the generation preceding the arrival of Mashiach. We must view ourselves with humility and put our good middot into action. Doing so will truly hasten the arrival of Mashiach, enabling us to see the glory of his kingdom, speedily and in our days.


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