A young rosh yeshivah of my acquaintance recently sent me a lengthy letter written some time back by an avreich in Lakewood to the parents of the three kedoshim kidnapped and murdered in the summer of 2014 — Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel. It brings out as clearly as anything I have read what it means to be a person capable of examining oneself unsparingly and taking the necessary steps to repair what is lacking. At the same time, it is a profound meditation on the meaning of ahavas Yisrael.

The writer begins the letter by relating a call he made to a former neighbor and mentor in Yerushalayim on June 30, 2014. When he asked his friend how he was, he received the surprising reply: “I’m totally tzubrochen (broken).” Taken aback, he asked what happened.

“What do you mean what happened?” said the former neighbor. “For 18 days we have been davening so much. Asifos (gatherings) every night, so much Tehillim, and now this horrific news!”

Through the phone the avreich could feel the palpable pain of his friend, one of the senior talmidim in Yeshivas Mir. The pain was not for someone else: The pain of another member of Klal Yisrael was his.

“And what about me?” the avreich thought to himself. Yes, he had recited Tehillim, said Acheinu after davening, had been vaguely aware that each of the boys had parents, brothers, sisters, friends. Yes, it was terrible — certainly for them. Over there. “But here… Me… It didn’t really get past the Teflon covering of a heart of stone.”

He got the message: He needed to strengthen himself in ahavas Yisrael. He began looking in seforim on how to develop ahavas Yisrael — “a feeling of oneness, closeness with [one’s] fellow Yidden.”

And then he saw a sign in the yeshivah: “A Lakewood yungerman is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Blood type O.” He was blood type O.

This was the “Heaven-sent opportunity to express and work on ahavas Yisrael.”

He knew he had to act. But he was terrified. Every day, he stared at the sign again. He called the sponsoring organization, Renewal, to discuss the risks, recovery time, and the likelihood of success. Then he told them he would have to discuss it with his wife and consult daas Torah.

All the while he was spurred by thoughts of giving life to a vibrant, young talmid chacham, of all the talmidim who would learn from him in all those active years he would gain from a new, functioning kidney.

But when he finally called Renewal to tell them he was ready to go ahead, another donor had already been found. But they mentioned a middle-aged man from Flatbush who needed a kidney transplant.

Again, he hesitated. This would not be the same “bang for the buck” as a young avreich — lower life expectancy, a balabos not a talmid chacham. And again, he started to be mechazek himself with calculations of the benefit from his kidney.

Perhaps the balabos was supporting six sons and sons-in-law in learning. Each year is like six. “Okay, that’s a lot of bang for the buck.”

He went in for the blood tests — six vials of blood. Once again, disappointment. The blood did not match.

The man from Renewal started to talk to him about another potential recipient, but the avreich stopped him short. There would be no more calculations of return on investment, bang for the buck. Was he a shomer Shabbos? That was enough.

“How much Torah will come out of it? How much kevod Shamayim? How much will the recipient’s life be changed? Important thoughts, even admirable thoughts, but for me the wrong thoughts.

“It was as if Hashem was saying, ‘I don’t need you to bring more Torah into the world. You wanted ahavas Yisrael; you’re going to have ahavas Yisrael. Forget frum cheshbonos. Just help a Jew. Don’t save his life — because you can’t save his life. I’ll worry about the Torah; I’ll worry about My kavod; I’ll save his life. You just do the chesed. Get out of yourself, and do chesed.’

“Now the focus had changed. It was no longer, ‘If I do X, then Y will happen.’ Now it was, ‘Do X. For your fellow Yid.’ Now, it was lishmah. Now, there would be siyata d’Shmaya.

“I realized that I had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — literally. This was my chance to get out of myself. I mustn’t let it go.”

Suddenly the words of Rav Chaim Volozhiner, quoted by his son Rav Itzele in the introduction to Nefesh HaChaim, that our purpose in This World is to help others, took on new meaning. Similarly, the Baal HaTanya’s explanation that the Avos are referred to as the Merkavah because they negated themselves to such an extent that everything they did became an expression of Hashem.

The biggest danger, now, was no longer from the operation itself, but that the yetzer might yet trip him up with thoughts of what a big tzaddik he was. On a trip to Israel before the scheduled operation, for two family simchahs, he went to see a number of gedolim. They instructed him to maintain total silence about the upcoming operation, and not let anyone know. They did, however, tell him that if the recipient wanted to see him and express his hakaras hatov, he should give him that opportunity.

Upon returning to the States, the final blood tests were still left. Eighteen vials in all. And this time, the matches were perfect. With every poke of the needle, the avreich thought to himself, “This is for You, You, You. The blood is not mine. The kidney is not mine. Hashem Echad!”

He recalled something that he had heard from Rabbi Chaim Weg, explicating the connection between ahavas Yisrael and ahavas Hashem. The Rambam writes that Jews are children of Hashem because we share one Father. But if we are not brothers, then we do not share a Father. And if we do not share a Father, then we cannot all be Hashem’s children.

On the day of the operation, there were no last-minute setbacks. The dveikus to Hashem gave the satan no portal for entry.

When the two directors of Renewal, who had accompanied the donor on his journey to be mesakein his lack of ahavas Yisrael, walked in to the partitioned area in which he was lying, he thought to himself, “I have to sing! I have to dance! Such a simchah! How could I not sing? How could I not express my gratitude to Hashem?”

In his green hospital gown, he jumped up from the hospital bed, grabbed the directors’ hands, and together they began dancing in a circle singing, “Ein od milvado. Ein od milvado.”

The operation, baruch Hashem, was a complete success. The 70-year-old recipient, who had been suffering from kidney disease for most of his life, was transformed by a healthy functioning kidney.

But that was not the success, writes the avreich. “Hashem had long ago decided that he would receive a new kidney. The success, rather, is that he, his wife and my wife, his kids and grandkids and mine feel like one family.

“Yes, we dress differently. Send our kids to different schools. Daven in different shuls. Rely on different hechsherim. We spend our time and money on different things.

“But we see none of that. We see neshamos. Cheilek Eloka mima’al. No chilukim. Children of Hashem Echad.”

The donor concluded his letter to the Fraenkel, Shaer, and Yifrach families by sharing that because of the process set in motion by their sons’ tragic deaths, the recipient’s grandson will now be able to realize his dream of a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem at the Kosel — a dream that was impossible as long as his grandfather was on dialysis.

“In your boys’ zechus.”

Soon we will begin our Sedorim by inviting all those in need, those without a meal to attend, to join us for the Seder. The quality of chesed, of love for our fellow Jews, the commentators explain, is what most clearly identifies us as Jews — as “bni bechori Yisrael,” the beloved of Hashem, Who founded His world on chesed.

For all the accumulated tumah of Egypt, the quality of chesed still remained, and it was that which allowed Hashem to distinguish us from the Egyptians. Those who did not feel that profound connection to their fellow Bnei Yisrael, who removed themselves from the klal, were not redeemed, the Haggadah reminds us, and will not be redeemed in the future either.

May this story of one Jew’s strenuous efforts to develop his ahavas Yisrael to the maximum help us all focus on the depth of true ahavas Yisrael, as we relive our past Redemption and look forward to the one soon to come.

Chag kasher v’sameiach. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 655)