Chabad at Stanford
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Three Lovers of Israel
By: Jacob S. Lempel

Three great Chassidic leaders were famous for their ahavat yisrael ("love of a fellow Jew"): Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov.

Rabbi Zusha was a living example of the maxim that "Love covers up all iniquities." (Proverbs 10:12.)

What the ordinary observer would perceive as a glaring deficiency, or even an outright sin, would not "register" in his holy eyes and mind. Rabbi Zusha was simply incapable of seeing anything negative in a fellow Jew.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's love found expression in his incessant efforts as an advocate for the people of Israel. Unlike Rabbi Zusha, he was not blind to their misdeeds and failings; but he never failed to "judge every man to the side of merit" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:6.)

to find a justification for, and even a positive aspect to, his behavior. (A typical story tells of how, upon seeing a wagon driver who was greasing his wheels while reciting his morning prayers, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak lifted his eyes to Heaven and cried: "Master of the Universe! Behold the piety of Your children! Even as they go about their daily affairs, they do not cease to pray to You!")

But the Baal Shem Tov's love ran deeper yet. To him, ahavat yisrael was not the refusal to see the deficiencies of a fellow Jew, or even the endeavor to transform them into merits, but an unequivocal love regardless of their spiritual state. He loved the most iniquitous transgressor with the same boundless love with which he loved the greatest tzaddik; he loved them as G-d loves them-as a father loves his children, regardless of who and what they are.