Recall a time that someone, a friend, partner, or family member, did something that hurt or bothered you. Perhaps they forgot to take out the garbage or were scrolling through their phone while you were trying to have an important conversation with them; perhaps they said or did something hurtful that cut deep at a sensitive part of you. Did you feel sad, hurt, angry? How did it affect the way you spoke to and acted around the person? Did you notice yourself judging the offense as trivial, and feeling frustrated with yourself for “taking it personally” or “being so sensitive”? Did this help alleviate your pain or anger at this person? Perhaps you tried to “get over it,” to brush it off and not “make a big deal” about it. You tried to keep acting nicely to the person, as if nothing happened; so of course they did not realize that anything actually did. Three weeks later, the person once again commits an offense; another neglected chore or accidentally insensitive joke or comment made at your expense. How’s that brushed-off anger and hurt now? Has it magically dissipated, or is it bubbling fiercely right beneath the surface, threatening to explode if this person so much as breathes the wrong way?
There is a set of commandments in this week’s Parsha that aptly address exactly these situations. The verse (19:17-18) states, (17) Do not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and do not bear a sin because of him (18) You shall not take revenge or bear a grudge against your fellow Jew, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. There are many important and interesting explanations and interpretations of these Pesukim, but we will focus on one elucidated by the Ramban and further expounded upon by Rav Shlomo Wolbe. In their reading of these Pesukim, we will uncover the Torah’s deep wisdom regarding how to maintain interpersonal effectiveness and connection.
The Ramban explains these verses as a progression, a template for dealing more effectively with those we love. In the Ramban’s words: Do not hate another in your heart when he’s done something to hurt or wrong you; rather, rebuke him – i.e., tell that person, in a gentle manner, that you are feeling hurt, that what they did affected you, and do not bear a sin because of him – i.e., don’t carry that hatred around with you, don’t cover it up or keep it inside, because in doing so, you rob that person of the opportunity to apologize, to admit they were wrong, and to choose to do differently next time. Furthermore, when we keep these feelings to ourselves, we run the risk of inadvertently taking revenge or bearing a grudge; perhaps it is not the purposeful kind of revenge, intentionally not taking out the garbage the next time, or hurling back an insult, but it is the insidious kind of ill will that festers within us when we are trying to hide our feelings of hurt or rejection. We might unintentionally find our tone laced with more venom than usual, or find ourselves dishing out the silent treatment, causing the other person to feel hurt and rejected, too.
This is what Nekima and Netirah can look like, explains Ramban, when we keep our feelings locked inside. Of course, these Pesukim culminate in the Mitzvah to love our fellow; Ramban explains that it is markedly more difficult to love someone when you are secretly boiling with hurt and anger. Therefore, the Ramban explains that these Pesukim instruct that when someone insults or hurts us, we musts tell them; and by so doing, we will avoid harboring hatred in our hearts, which itself is a sin, and we will be protected as well from taking revenge or bearing a grudge – and in this way, it will be that much easier to fulfill the Mitzvah of V’Ahavta LiRe’acha Kamocha.
Rav Wolbe takes this one step further. Perhaps we have tried this method already; we know all about interpersonal effectiveness and the importance of telling others how we feel – we begrudgingly admit that they cannot read our minds and must be told, even when we think their transgression is obvious. So we muster up a gentle, calm tone, and we try to express how we felt when they did/said/didn’t do/say the thing that caused us pain. In the best case scenario, they apologize, and a plan is made to improve things going forward. But something still gnaws at us; despite externalizing and expressing the hurt, we remain bearing a slight grudge, carrying a little bit of hurt and insult with us, still. The way we feel about and act toward this person shifts, just a bit, and we are more vulnerable to being hurt by them in the future. What can we do?
Rav Wolbe explains that maintaining connection in our relationships sometimes requires us to act with love and generosity, despite the feelings we are carrying. To stay connected to someone even when they’ve hurt us, we must continue to give to them, to act toward them with love, even while feeling some anger or frustration in our hearts. This is another example of a previously mentioned Dialectical Behavior Therapy concept called opposite action that we employ to be more effective in our personal lives.
With this in mind, let’s return to these Pesukim and integrate what we have learned. Do not hate your brother in your heart- if he has done something to hurt or upset you, tell him! This should help to lower the risk of wanting to take revenge, or of bearing a grudge, and thus you won’t have to bear the sin of hating your fellow Jew – and it will help you to fulfill the Mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself (Ramban). And if you have told this person that you were hurt, and a resolution was made for the future, but you notice yourself still struggling with negative feelings toward them… act opposite to those feelings and continue to stay connected by giving to them, and through the Mitzvah of V’Ahavta LiRe’acha Kamocha, through acting out of love, you will find that your feelings of anger will dissipate, and your love will increase.
During these weeks of Sefirah there is a special emphasis placed on increasing Ahavas Yisrael. This is by no means an easy task, and certainly it is often difficult when managing frustration, hurt, and anger in our close relationships with friends and loved ones. The Torah’s deep psychological wisdom provides us with the exact recipe for increasing this love: act with love, express your hurt, foster connection. Try it this week with someone whose connection is valuable to you; Klal Yisrael can always use a little more love.