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  Chapter 6 from
Rebbes and Chassidim: What They Said - What They Meant

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski 


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The Uniqueness of Man

“A person among you who brings a sacrificial offering to G-d ... (Leviticus 1:2). This is the way the verse is generally translated.

“This translation is not literally accurate,” said R’ Yisroel of Rizhin. “The literal translation is ‘A person who brings from you a sacrificial offering to G-d.’ We can then interpret to mean that a mentsch (person) is one who can sacrifice of oneself.

How do we define a human being? There are a number of traits that distinguish human beings from other forms of life. One of the distinguishing features is that man has the ability to do chesed (acts of loving-kindness). Man can do for others even at the cost of his own comfort. With the exception of pets who may adopt human traits, animals are incapable of sacrificing themselves for the benefit of others. No tiger has ever left over a carcass so that a hungry jackal might have food.

All living things act in their own interest. Man can be unique in one of two ways. (1) He can sacrifice his personal comfort in order to help others. (2) He can alter his character so that other people’s discomforts become his own. Even if one does not achieve the latter, the minimum criterion of humanity is to be able to set aside one’s own comfort for the benefit of others.

This is the message of the verse cited, said the Rebbe of Rizhin. One can be considered to be a person only if one can sacrifice of himself. One who does not act with loving-kindness may be considered an intelligent biped, but he lacks the quality which defines a human being.

 
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