Seeing the Good

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Ki Seitze

Many years ago a woman in Yerushalayim told me a story. She was a wonderful woman, she kept the Torah faithfully, had a large family, many guests on Shabbos and davened every day. She even published a book. She had one spiritual crisis. Of course she loved all her children but she had one child that she just didn’t like. She found herself picking on him, blaming him for things he didn’t do, not hugging him as much as the others. It was a terrible situation. She struggled with this and worked on herself for months but somehow to her, the child had no chein. It happened that her husband became ill and Rav C.P. Scheinberg came to their apartment to visit. The Rav knew nothing about this very private condition that was ripping apart this woman’s family and heart. The whole family waited with anticipation knowing that their Rebbe was about to visit. When he knocked, the mother, followed by the whole family, came to greet him. Rav Scheinberg entered with his usual grace and for some reason immediately focused on this little child. He cupped the child’s face in his hand and looked at the mother and said, “You know – all your children are beautiful but this child has the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen.” This mother told me that for the first time in the child’s life she saw his eyes. They were beautiful. She shared with me that from that day on whenever she looks at this child all she sees are his eyes. Her attitude and her whole relationship changed.

As a people we have suffered greatly in the hands of a long list of oppressors. Of the worst were the Egyptians who enslaved us, persecuted us and drowned our children. The Edomites massacred us. Yet, all of our oppressors can become Jewish. There are very few exceptions. We accept any sincere convert with open arms. However, the nations of Amon and Moav can not become Jewish. Why not? “… because they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt , and because they hired Bilaam to curse you" (Devarim  23:4-5) They can never become Jewish! How can a lack of hospitality be worse than killing us and drowning our children?

The Ramban z"l explains that one must understand this in its historical context. Avraham Avinu risked his life to save Lot and his wife from the four kings. Lot was the Patriarch of the nations of Ammon and Moab . Therefore, these nations owed their very existence to Avraham Avinu and his descendants. They should have expressed their gratitude to the Jewish people and performed acts of kindness for them. Instead, they responded with evil. Because of this, even their descendants are not permitted to marry into our nation or convert to Judaism.

I do not believe this was a punishment. If we were punishing nations the Egyptians would have come first. It’s just that without the ability to appreciate an act of goodness that was done for you and without the ability to see and remember the positive in other people it is impossible to be part of the Jewish community.

The inability to recognize goodness will interfere with every aspect of Yiddishkeit. How can someone stay married without hakaros hatov? How can one do the mitzvah of honoring their parents if they are blinded to the good that was done for them from the time of their childhood? How can one bring out the greatness in their child if they can’t see their good? How can one be part of a community or have friends without good vision? How can one have a relationship with G-d if they can’t appreciate Him? How can we love our children if we can’t see their eyes?

There are people in this world that have a knack for seeing the negative and the downside of every person, situation and place. There are people that even under duress somehow find the positive even where no one else can seem to find it. It is the person that can find the good that can practice Judaism.

As we start to wind down on the year we have to do some serious attitude checking. We have to ask ourselves some difficult questions. Do I find myself being critical more often than complimentary? When I meet someone new do I first take notice of his or her beautiful aspects or of their ugly parts? Am I able to say thank you easily or is it always a struggle?

In the Ten Commandments Hashem introduces Himself to us with a very compelling argument. “I am your G-d. I am the one that took you out of Egypt and put you on your feet.” G-d is saying; “I don’t need you to be philosophers or kabbalists, but I do need you to be able to show gratitude. If you can do this you can become my children. If you can find those eyes you can be a Jew.”

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