Sometimes, we see an attribute in a family member or friend that might bother us. Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson, Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Schechter Rabbinical School, uses lessons of the Baal Shem Tov to teach us how we can improve ourselves. She uses texts from this week’s parsha Re’eh to show us how to better our community and ourselves in preparation for the month of Elul and Rosh Hashanah.
It is rare that a Hasidic teaching haunts me; every once in a while it happens. Most of the time they comfort me and offer me a way to walk with ease and with meaning and purpose in the world. Yet there’s a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that haunts me every time I come back to it, honestly, that happens more often than I admit. Honestly, probably almost every day. The question is, what do we do with people that challenge us, challenge the way we walk in the world, challenge our peace of mind, and challenge the way we look at ourselves?
The Baal Shem Tov has a concept that is called “שמץ מינייהו” something of it or him. When we see a person who challenges us, who makes us uncomfortable, someone that we feel is easy for us to judge, the Baal Shem Tov says what we’re looking at is ourselves. There’s a way in which I think about the image of a mirror and how we walk in the world with these mirrors. Sometimes I like to ask how many times a day we look in the mirror. Myself, before I leave the house I look in the mirror twice. I don’t know about you, how many times do you look in the mirror? Once I look in the mirror to see what I look like so that when people look at me they see what I look like. Then I also look at myself to look at myself, look myself in the eyes. Before I walk out into the world to see myself.
This week’s parsha allows us to look at that challenge in the way that the Baal Shem Tov is asking of us because when the Torah says, “כִּֽי־יִהְיֶה֩ בְךָ֨ אֶבְי֜וֹן מֵאַחַ֤ד אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ בְּאַחַ֣ד שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ בְּאַ֨רְצְךָ֔” (Duet. 15.7) when we encounter a poor person or a brother in our community. There’s one word that repeats itself again and again, “we should give to him, we should take care of him, we should see what he is lacking.” When we say he we know we’re talking here about both he and her. Therefore this question of giving him what one needs there’s a section in the Talmud that deals with these questions of assisting and helping the poor “ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ” (Deut. 15. 8) to give them what they are lacking. The Talmud adds one must give according to the person’s specific needs. We need to know who the individual we’re dealing with is, and what it is that they are lacking. We are demanded to offer them whether it makes sense to us or not. Maybe it seems over the top or superfluous, but if that is what they need for their sense of self and their sense of dignity that’s what we’re responsible for.
I want to highlight this teaching here, when we see someone who is lacking, something is absent in their life, this is an invitation to ask ourselves what we see lacking in ourselves. To be able to identify what someone else is missing, the Baal Shem Tov is asking of us also to be able to acknowledge what it is that we are missing, because if we don’t understand that we also are lacking, then we can’t understand someone else experiencing this feeling of emptiness.
I had that conversation with someone within the last 24 hours. I was having a conversation and sharing something that was missing in my life. I felt that the person I was talking to, and despite all of their love, they could not hear me because what I was lacking is not something they could even conceive of lacking in their life. While there was love, I didn’t feel empathy or support and I didn’t feel a way to help me overcome that challenge. “ דֵּ֚י מַחְסֹר֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יֶחְסַ֖ר לֽוֹ”. She wasn’t able to see what I was lacking because she wasn’t capable of seeing that within herself. It’s a great challenge to see parts of ourselves as they manifest in someone else. The Baal Shem Tov here is teaching about monetary loss. On the soul, heart, and spirit level he is also teaching us to see someone else and understand that they are our mirror, to be able to come in touch with that place within ourselves, that we can meet others where they are lacking, and when they are in need to be able to offer them the help and the partnership to reclaim a part of themselves that is lost.
I pray and I bless us all that this week and this Shabbat, and the upcoming Rosh Chodesh Elul we can find ways of being El- and -lo, to come close to God and also what is lacking in ourselves. I pray that we can bring this teaching into our lives every day of this coming month and every month of this coming year. That we can encounter, observe, and embrace the other as an extension of ourselves, to be able to help each other from that place of community, love, and deep recognition. To help each other find those missing parts of ourselves and to walk in the world more whole and more complete.
Shavua Tov from Shechter, Chodesh Tov, and an abundance of blessings to all.
Reb Mimi serves as the Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Rabbinical School, and teaches Talmud and Hassidic Thought. She will guide and walk with the rabbinical students on their personal-spiritual journeys. She served as the Mashpiah Ruchanit of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles for the last 16 years. Prior to this Reb Mimi was one of the founding administration and faculty members of the “Yakar” Beit Midrash and community.