Complete teshuva includes the mitzvoth between man and fellow human and the rectification of any damage that one person causes another. Many people conveniently forget this...
by Rabbi Shalom Arush
There are some things that one can learn from books, but the lesson I'm about to write here comes from life. I've seen people who were far away from Torah observance, but they were good people who had respect for others. Such people live good lives. On the other hand, there are those who are apparently Torah-observant, yet they harm other people. These individuals live unpleasant and difficult lives. Hashem has enabled me to understand that those who live a good life are the ones who respect others. The better a person's character traits, the more he lives in harmony with his fellow human. Such a person earns the love of others and he lives a gratifying, quality life.
Many mistakenly think that the most important aspects of Torah are the observance of the Sabbath, kashruth laws and exacting performance of mitzvoth in every detail. Actually, this is only a small part of teshuva. The bulk of teshuva deals with the mitzvoth between man and fellow human and the rectification of any damage that one person causes another. Many people conveniently forget the need to apologize and to seek forgiveness for their mistreatment of others. Without this, a person hasn't done the main part of teshuva, which includes character refinement, as we learn from Zechariah the Prophet: at the beginning of the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews asked Zechariah what to do about the public fast days. The prophet answered (Zechariah 7:9), "Thus spoke Hashem, Master of Legions, saying: 'Judge with truthful justice and perform kindness and mercy toward one another. Do not oppress the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the poor, and do not think in your hearts of doing wrong to one another’".
In other words, Hashem is telling them, "Before you talk to me about fasting, see how you are treating each other." The way we treat one another is much more important to the Creator than fasts. Many people are preoccupied totally with the commandments between man and Hashem, but they neglect the commandments between man and fellow human, which should have first priority in their teshuva.
With my own eyes, I've seen how people who asked forgiveness for the wrongdoings they did to others saw salvations. One celebrity read "The Garden of Emuna" and began to do teshuva but he still had hardships in life. I found out that he wasn't on speaking terms with his mother. I asked him, "What, do you think it's a joke? How do you expect to have a decent life when you're causing grief to your mother?" As a result, he reconciled with his mother and everything turned around for the better.
Whenever people solve their problems with others, everything turns around for the best. Especially important is the need to keep peace in the family and with loved ones, for that requires greater effort.
I'll give you another small example: I saw someone insult a migrant worker. It wasn't a serious insult; he just yelled at him when I was present and within earshot. I said to him immediately, "What's going on here?" I can't stand to see one person harming another in any way. I told the person who yelled at the worker that it doesn't matter whether he's your worker or not, and it doesn't matter if he's a foreigner from some contrary that you consider primitive or inferior. He's a human being and the Creator doesn't allow insult to any of His creations, even mineral, plant and animal! All the more so must we preserve the dignity of every person.
This world is the King's palace and the King's palace must be dignified. Speech in the King's palace must be dignified and polite. All behavior in the King's palace must be dignified and kind, exemplifying mercy, giving in to others, promoting mutual help and speaking in a respectful tone without shouting.
On a different occasion, one of my students came to me on his own initiative and said that he knew he got a traffic ticket because he insulted one of the migrant workers. I told him that he must be careful to preserve the dignity of every human being, no matter who! Even if someone looks insane, disheveled, short, tall, fat, skinny, red, yellow, green or black, with a crooked head or handicapped, Heaven forbid – you should know that such a person is performing a difficult mission on earth. Indeed, you should smile at him and treat him kindly; giving him the will to be happy and to love himself, for this will strengthen his emuna.
"It's bad enough that you didn't treat the worker with kindness," I told my student, "but you even ridiculed him!? Where's your heart? Put yourself in his shoes; imagine how the poor guy must deal day-to-day trying to eke out a living in a place where everyone is making fun of him and treating him like a subhuman. Even in a place where everyone else is a brute, you must behave like a human being. What do we know about another soul, no matter how lowly it may seem? Maybe he's a hidden tsaddik in whose virtue the world exists? There are stories about hidden tsaddikim whose appearance was horrifying, but they were righteous, holy and learned. Heaven forbid that someone should harm or insult such a tsaddik. That's why you must treat everyone with dignity. When you do, the Creator will preserve your dignity, measure for measure."
Rabbi Shalom Arush is an Israeli Breslov rabbi and founder of the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions. He spreads the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov among Sephardic and Ashkenazic baalei teshuva around the world through his books and speaking appearances. Rabbi Arush is considered one of today's leading Hasidic spiritual guides, inspiring hundreds of thousands through his books, audio CDs and online presence.