Although this shiur was not directly about Parshas Lech Lecha, it nevertheless relates to the first great “mekarever” — Avraham Avinu

One of the mishnayos in Pirkei Avos speaks about one of the greatest “mekarevers”Aharon the Kohen Gadol: “Be one of the disciples of Aharon… love creatures (habriyos) and bring them close (mekarvan) to Torah.”

The Rebbe asks why the mishnah uses the word habriyos, creatures, rather than a word such as “people,” “fellow man,” or some similar term? He answers that the word habriyos implies people who have no other (revealed) virtue other than the fact that G‑d created them. Accordingly, when we are told to be among the disciples of Aharon and love creatures as he did, the mishnah is instructing us to love even those people whom one cannot really find any good reason to love. You only love them because they’re Jews and they have a Jewish soul. The truth is, that even such people are part of you, because all Jews are really brothers and sisters. We’re part of one people.

There is a story that illustrates this idea. I “happen” to have been present when this story took place, and it had a profound impact on my life and on my perceptions of many things. It happened about twenty years ago when I was in a certain women’s Yeshivah for a summer program. There were about a hundred women there that summer, and among them, there was one girl who had real problems. She was a kind of a nebbich. A nebbich is someone who never seems to make it, a failure. The girl was not very popular, nor was she very intelligent. Nobody really went out of their way to be friendly towards her because she really wasn’t such an interesting person. She remained pretty much on the sidelines and was more-or-less ignored. She often used to sleep late and come late to classes. She wasn’t really part of the Yeshivah experience.

One morning she didn’t show up for class, which was nothing new. But one of the girls said to her roommate, “Would you go please see where she is, wake her up and tell her to come to class?” This was despite the fact that she would sit in the back and never ask questions and never participate. The messenger came back and said, “She’s sleeping and I can’t seem to get her up.” To make a long story short, they went back to try to wake her up. We found out later that she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills and had also slashed her wrists. It was hashgachah peratis — undiluted Divine Providence — that they went to check up on her, because when they brought her to the hospital and pumped her stomach and resuscitated her, the doctors said that had she been left for another hour, she might have been brain dead or beyond revival. You can be sure that all of us were totally shocked. That was the first reaction. How could this happen right here? Such wonderful people, a place of Torah — and look at this. The second feeling was shame. Yesterday, at lunch, I had sat with my back to her. The other day she might have asked me something and I didn’t respond. Everybody had some guilt that they had not done the maximum. Or perhaps worse, that they were responsible in some measure for the girl’s unhappiness.

It was erev Shabbos, Friday morning, when this happened. Right before candle-lighting she was brought back. Friday night after candle-lighting, there was a very heavy feeling in the place because of what had happened. The Rabbi gave us his usual Friday night shiur. That night he couldn’t help but address the morning’s events. I won’t tell you the whole thing verbatim, although I remember it very well. Words from the heart are not easily forgotten, even though twenty years have passed. One thing he said, everybody in that room probably still remembers. He said that what had happened, happened to all of us. Although it happened to that girl, we were all involved, because hashgachah peratis had brought us all to the same place at the same time. HaShem was obviously giving us all a message — that we are very selective with the people that we are nice to. In other words, very pious and noble but always selective. When we invite guests for Shabbos, we invite people that are likeable and personable. Of course, it’s not such a challenge to be pleasant to them. He added, “Isn’t it interesting that some people have four invitations for the same Shabbos and some people have to make ten phone calls before somebody will agree to have them for Shabbos? When the Torah was given at Sinai, do you think that it was given only for the beautiful people? Do you think that there was a special line for the nice people and in the back is where all the nebbichs stood? No, the Torah was given to all Jews, no matter what kind of personality they have, no matter what kind of troubles they have, no matter what kind of IQ they have. The Torah is part of every single Jew until the end of time. What happened today points a finger at all of us to really make a good cheshbon hanefesh , a critical self-evaluation, of our personalities and the way we decide to whom we are going to be loving and pleasant and nice, and to whom we are going to be cold and nasty.”

When we start to think about it, we realize that we generally don’t extend ourselves for people who are in the category of nebbichs. This one — she’s beautiful, she’s rich, she’s popular. For her I’ll put on the nicest face. But what about the one who is none of these?

This is what “loving creatures” means. Even though you can’t find anything great to compliment them about, at the very least, try your best to be pleasant.

The second half of the mishnah states, “and bring them close (mekarvan) to Torah.” The Rebbe says that one has to be very careful about the meaning of this statement: Bring the people to the Torah , but not the Torah to the people. In other words, you have people that are not yet on the level of the Torah and then you have the Torah that is somewhere up in heaven, as far as they are concerned. Now you have a problem — how are you going to make the twain meet? There are two possibilities: You can either water down the Torah a little bit, make it a little easier and a little softer and say, “this mitzvah is old-fashioned, this one is not for her… We’ll just make it into a nice easy thing and then maybe it’ll be an enticement for them.” That’s what the Reform and Conservative movements have done. They took out all the parts they felt were not relevant or were too difficult.

There’s another approach: “I know that this person can’t jump up a mountain. I know that in one day she’s not going to turn into Me’ah She’arim. But my goal is to bring this person slowly to the Torah, not to bring the Torah to her. Who is the one who has to make moves? It’s the person. The Torah stays where it is; it is immutable.

In the time of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, in the 1930s-40s, the Reform and Conservative movements really made tremendous inroads into Judaism, not only in America but also in Europe. The Previous Rebbe was unlike the Rebbe in that he traveled quite a lot. The Rebbe doesn’t travel; everybody comes to him. But the Previous Rebbe did travel. He was once a participant in a meeting to discuss the plight of youth. It’s not just today that people are worried about the younger generation; they were worried many years ago. At that meeting one of the speakers said, Yiddishkeit is disappearing. It really looks as if by the next generation there won’t be anybody left.” That’s the way it seemed to people who lived at that time — that there was no future for traditional Judaism. The speaker continued, “We cannot raise the level of observance of the next generation. They’re just not interested. The young people do not want to live a totally Jewish life. So the only hope we have is to sort of modify Yiddishkeit, make it a little more appealing for the youngsters and then at least they’ll keep something, rather than not keep anything. The way we’re presenting it, being strict,” he said, “they won’t have any part of it.”

The person speaking used an analogy to back up his point. “When a building is on fire, it doesn’t matter whether you use clean water or if it’s water that you’ve used to wash the floors…; as long as it’s water it will put out the fire. Right now, Yiddishkeit is on fire. We’ve got to extinguish the fire, so it doesn’t matter how we do it — as long as we achieve our goal.”

The Previous Rebbe then spoke up and said, “But what if the fluid you’re throwing on it is kerosene? That won’t put out the fire, it’ll make the fire much bigger. What you are trying to do is not only going to not solve the problem, it’s going to make the problem so much bigger.”

The Previous Rebbe was famous for being like Aharon — bringing people to the Torah. He didn’t budge. He had a lot of faith that people could and would get higher, that it’s wrong to say that a person’s on such-and-such a level and there’s no hope for him. He had tremendous faith that people would return to their faith. Baruch HaShem, today we’re seeing the result, when children are bringing their parents back.

A number of women whom I taught told me that when they went to the mikveh just before their wedding day, they asked their mothers to go with them too, because their mothers had never gone to the mikveh. These girls were bringing their mothers back to what their grandmothers had done in Europe. And we see the pattern very often where the youth are more strict than the parents. As the Previous Rebbe taught, when we bring the people to Torah, not only do they come themselves, they even bring others.