Can I love someone like me? | religious life
After the Holocaust, a survivor reunited with the fellow survivor who gave him new boots in the ghetto, allowing him to survive. He brought with him the worn pair of boots. Upon seeing the boots, the savior beckoned his guest over to see the centerpiece of his china cabinet, a pair of worn boots. He told his guest please keep your boots on I have my own reminder of times. The story behind the boots is the fascinating story of a suffering Jew in hellish times, recognizing that his mate needed him more than he did. You see, our survivors knew and recognized that the mitzvah that had taken place was the epitome of “V’Ahavta l’rayacha kamocha” — loving another Jew as oneself.
In the tractate Taanit, the mishna declares Mishenichnas Av, mimaatin besimcha. When the month of Av arrives, we decrease in joy. During the three weeks, and especially the nine days, there is a custom of not listening to live music, not having a haircut, delaying trials and during the last nine days, avoiding wine and meat.
One of the main mitzvot or tasks that guide us is Ivdu and HaShem besimcha – to serve Gd with joy. One who is passionate about life, especially when he is done with the ease and lightness brought by true internalized joy, is able to better dedicate and channel his actions and avoid burnout and mitzvahs. by heart.
The Talmud in the Yoma tractate page 9b records that the destruction of the Second Temple, in whose exile we now find ourselves, was destroyed due to baseless hatred.
Among the many actions the rabbis encouraged to bring about the era of Mashiach and the eternal Third Beit Hamikdash are increasing our baseless love for another and studying the laws of the temple. . The increased emphasis on loving another is a direct solution to the baseless hatred that was the cause of the destruction, and studying the laws of the temple shows our desire for its rebuilding.
When it comes to loving another Jew, the Torah uses the word kamocha, as oneself. Literally, this would mean that our love for each other should be just like the love we have for ourselves. Such love seems to be a very difficult if not unattainable level. Self-love is so powerful. It can even blind us to realities that we see and know to be untrue and it can create very compelling reasoning and narratives that are contrary to our usual beliefs and practices. Some would say it’s written “like yourself”, meaning as close as possible, but we don’t expect another’s love to reach the same level as our love- own.
The Chabad Rebbe often led farbrengens and other public gatherings in honor of auspicious occasions and Shabbat afternoons, where he shared ideas on various Jewish topics and the weekly Torah portion. Some of these sichot-talks were edited for printing in Israeli newspapers. In one of these edited messages, the Rebbe specifically addressed this question of how can one reach the level of loving another “kamocha” as oneself. The Rebbe instructed us not to focus on our material physical body and ourselves, but rather to focus on our true core, our divine essence. The essence of every Jew is our divine spark, our “Neshama”, which is a piece of divinity. As such, if we focus on our essence and core and on the essence and core of our neighbor, we will realize that we are one and the same, all part of Gd. Focusing on our common essence allows us to not be sucked into the material and physical differences we might have and instead focus on what we share. Not to treat another Jew with the good Ahavat Yisrael is then an affront to God and to our common essence as well. To hate a fellow Jew would be to hate my own essence, and our divine source.
This message can also be found in the mishna of the treatise Taanit quoted above. If we dig a little deeper into the exact wording of the mishna and move the pause – the comma in the text – we can find this same message about how to love another Jew, how to go about a love without foundation.
Mishenichnas Av: when the month of Av enters.
Mimaatin: we make ourselves smaller, that is, we recognize that we are among the many entrusted with Torah and mitzvot to create a home for Gd in the chaotic world. And, we make room for another, for another Jew, another part of Gd.
Besimcha: and this is done through joy.
Through our joy of being part of Gd, we will increase our baseless love and be the catalysts for the coming of Moshiach and the building of the eternal Third Beit Hamikdash, be it immediately now. Amen. jn
Rabbi Dov Levertov is director of the Chabad of Phoenix.