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Torah Attitude: Parashas Kedoshim: True love lasts forever
How can the Torah command us to feel love towards another person? Hillel said to the prospective convert, "What you don't want for yourself, don't do to your fellow." Do not disobey the instructions of G'd. You are expected to actively pursue a course of action of helping others. The act of doing something for another person brings out feelings of love for that person. A person who does not use language accurately and declares his love for fish really means that he loves to eat fish. Any love that is dependent on a specific reason, when the reason disappears, so does the love. Everlasting love is not based on what benefit one receives from the relationship but is based on what investment one puts into the relationship. Rather than seeking personal benefit, satisfaction and fulfillment in a marriage, one must learn to seek how to give and benefit one's spouse. The Torah attitude of giving in a relationship brings to mind the famous speech by President Kennedy. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos refers to the true love between Jonathan and David. Nothing makes a person feel as good as by giving of oneself to benefit others.
You shall love
In this week's Torah portion it says (Vayikra 19:18): "And you shall love your fellow as yourself." Love is an emotion. It is a very personal feeling between one person and another. Love does not seem to be an act that one can be commanded to perform. So how can the Torah command us to feel love towards another person?
In Targum Yonathan ben Uziel this verse is explained in the following way: "And you should love your fellow. That what you dislike for yourself do not do to the other person." This corresponds to the famous words of Hillel related in the Talmud (Shabbos 31a): A gentile came to Hillel requesting that he be converted to Judaism on the condition that he be taught all of the Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel somehow sensed that this prospective convert was very serious about his commitment. Hillel said to him, "What you don't want for yourself, don't do to your fellow. This is the basic of all the Torah and the rest is commentary. Go and study."
Do not disobey G'd
Rabbi Akiva also alluded to the fundamental importance of this commandment. Rashi quotes that Rabbi Akiva said that this is a major rule of the Torah. However, how can it be said that this is the basis of all the Torah? It is well known that there are two types of commandments. One type of commandment deals with the relationship between man and G'd. The other type of commandment deals with the relationship between man and his fellow beings. Based on this, Rashi in his commentary on the Talmud explains that we find that G'd is called the "friend" of man. As such, there is a double meaning in Hillel's words. On a simple level, it was to be understood that a person should not do to another human being what the person would not like done to him. This is the bare minimum necessary for human beings to be able to coexist in peace and harmony. On a deeper level there is a message alluding to the relationship between man and G'd. Just as you would dislike if someone disobeyed your instructions, in the same way do not disobey the instructions of G'd.
Actively help others
This interpretation of not doing to others what you would dislike for you is a command that everyone can be expected to follow. However, the Torah has a message for various levels of co-existence in this command. Some of our commentaries make a note of the literal translation of this verse that reads "And you shall love to your friend as to yourself." They explain that a person is obligated to take an interest and provide for others as one would want for oneself. On this level it is not sufficient to merely abstain from harming others; rather, you are expected to actively pursue a course of action of helping others (see Ibn Ezra, Malbim and others).
Bringing out feelings of love
Rabbi Moishe Chaim Luzatto (Path of Just Chapter 11) takes this commandment to the highest level, that a person should love his fellow being exactly as one loves himself. This returns us to the original question as to how can we be commanded to love others.
Some people who declare their love for another may use the expression of love very loosely. When a person declares that he "loves fish", what does this mean? As the Mussar exponents explain, when someone claims to love fish it is far from the truth. True love for fish would entail purchasing an aquarium and spending time, effort and funds to care and provide for the fish. A person who does not use language accurately and declares his love for fish really means that he loves to eat fish. In other words, fish satisfy his needs and appetite.
Based on this we get a better understanding of the Torah attitude towards love. Some people love other people the way they love eating fish. This kind of love for another person only lasts as long as a person's appetite or desire is satisfied. As it says in the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:19): "Any love that is dependent on a specific reason, when the reason disappears, so does the love. A love that is not dependent on a specific reason, that love will never cease". The Mishnah is obviously referring to an expression of love that exceeds just a benefit derived from a specific person. Often feelings of love emanate from certain qualities of another person. These qualities appeal to you and satisfy you, whether it is outer beauty or other qualities a person possesses such as a good sense of humour or kindness that creates a bond of attraction. Says the Mishnah, if this is the sole basis for the love, the instant these qualities cease to exist, so will the love.
The Mishnah continues and says that if the love is not based on another person's qualities then nothing will cause the love to cease to exist. The obvious question is if the love is not based on qualities then what is it based on? The answer to this we find in a startling statement our sages make in Masechet Derech Eretz Zuta (Chapter 2): "If you want to love your fellow being then you should do something for his benefit." As the Orchas Tzadikim explains that, contrary to public opinion that a person would do something for someone he loves, our sages here teach us that the act of doing something for another person brings out feelings of true love for that person. Everlasting love is not based on what benefit one receives from the relationship but is based on what investment one puts into the relationship. Therefore, even if the other person loses some of the qualities this will not result in a diminishing love because this love is not just based on these qualities. Rather, this true love is created by a bond of mutual care and interest for each other.
Isaac and Rebecca
This message is brought home by the Rambam in his commentary on Pirkei Avos (1:6) which states: "You should acquire for yourself a friend". The Rambam says, "When you love do not love by your own measure. Rather love by the measure of the one you love. When both lovers will have this in mind, each one will work towards satisfying the other one and eventually they will both want the same thing, no doubt." We find this kind of love in the Torah by the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca. In general people would say that when a man and woman develop a love for each other, this would be a reason for them to marry. However, the Torah says (Bereishis 24:67): "And Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah and he took Rebecca and she became his wife and he loved her". Only after they were married and cared for each other did the true love emanate between Isaac and Rebecca. This kind of love is the solid basis for every marriage. We live in a time when too many marriages end up in divorce with so much pain and aggravation, not only for the spouses but even more so for the children. If couples would follow the direction of the Torah on how to build a loving and lasting relationship, then many of these sad divorces could be avoided. Rather than seeking personal benefit, satisfaction and fulfillment in a marriage, we must learn to seek how to give and benefit one another in our relationships.
The Torah attitude of giving in a relationship brings to mind the famous speech by President Kennedy: "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. (John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, Friday, January 20, 1961)
Jonathan and David
The Torah attitude towards true love is not limited to the loving relationship of husband and wife. It also applies to many other relationships. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos refers to the true love between Jonathan and David. This was a relationship where two people only cared about the welfare of the other without concern for their own personal satisfaction. Jonathan's father, King Saul, was very displeased with Jonathan's relationship with David since he expected his son to succeed him. To the contrary, Jonathan did everything he could to assist David to become king.
This ultimate expression of loving your fellow being as yourself stems from an appreciation of the other person's worthiness without diminishing the self-worth of the one expressing it. After all, the Torah instructs to love another as you love yourself. This first requirement is that one loves oneself. To reach such a high level of selflessness to benefit others we must realize that there is an ultimate satisfaction in life that never comes from amassing benefits and assets for oneself. On the contrary, nothing makes a person feel as good as by giving ourselves to benefit our fellow human beings both to individuals and to our communities. May the Torah attitude of true love enrich our lives with everlasting love that and may we soon experience the days of true peace and harmony forever.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network