The Rebbe once told a woman who was concerned about her neighborhood: “Whether someone will be a good or bad neighbor does not depend on their skin color.”
By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier
The Rebbe once told a woman who was concerned about her neighborhood: “Whether someone will be a good or bad neighbor does not depend on their skin color.” (Igros Kodesh vol. 6 pg. 298.)
A good neighbor is not a black-and-white issue.
“Distance yourself from a bad neighbor and don’t bond with a wicked person,” we read in this week’s Pirkei Avos. The Mishna refers to two different people; the bad neighbor and the wicked person are not one and the same. So what is it that makes someone a bad neighbor?
The Medrash Shmuel explains that one can be a decent person, but unpleasant when dealing with others. Not actually wicked, but constantly jealous, unhelpful, trying to outdo others or ruin what they have to compensate for their own failings. A good neighbor, on the other hand, is socially pleasant, helpful, and happy for any good that comes his neighbors’ way.
How do we become the good neighbor?
We all have two sides within us: a good one and its neighboring opponent. The better we deal with our own bad neighbor, the more we work to improve our character and let the good side rule, the better neighbor we will be to others. (See Medrash Shmuel. See also Igros Kodesh vol. 13 pg. 206.)
My color or my religion doesn’t make me a good person to be around. I need to work on my character. I need to apply all the good values of our Torah to my actual behavior.
Jonnel is my neighbor, and an excellent one. He’s genuinely happy for us in all our celebrations, from a new baby to a successful season in our garden. And he knew he could count on me for a donation when he raised funds for his childhood school in the Caribbean.
I think the root of his good character can be captured in something he told me at the beginning of the pandemic. “The only way we’ll get through this is with faith. No one can survive without it.”
The Rebbe insisted that the only way to succeed as a society is by educating ourselves and our children about our purpose in this world. We are all created by G-d, put here for a reason. It’s vital that we maintain an awareness of His presence in our lives. He is the ultimate One to whom we all need to answer, Jew and non-Jew alike.
A police officer who commits murder, a “religious” person who treats others badly, or a person of any skin color who loots—all are lacking in their morals and values to one degree or another.
So much of the unrest in America today is not rooted in skin color, but in the color of the lens through which we view ourselves, other people, and the purpose of the world at large.
We must all do our part in promoting the proper perspective: a G-dly one.
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