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Torah Attitude: Parashas Kedoshim: True love lasts forever
How can the Torah command us to love 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. We are expected to actively help 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 that he loves 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. This concept was mentioned by President Kennedy in his inaugural speech. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos refers to the true love between Jonathan and David. Nothing makes a person feel as good as when one gives to others, whether individuals or communities.
You shall love
In this week's Parasha it says (Vayikra 19:18): "And you shall love your fellow as yourself." This seems strange. Love is an emotion and 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 love another person?
In Targum Yonathan ben Uziel this verse is explained in the following way: "And you should love your fellow. What you dislike for yourself do not do to another person." This corresponds to the famous words of Hillel related in the Talmud (Shabbos 31a) when a gentile came to him and requested that he be converted to Judaism on the condition that he be taught the whole Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel somehow sensed that this prospective convert was very serious about his commitment and said to him, "What you don't want for yourself, don't do to your fellow. This is the foundation of the whole Torah; the rest is its commentary. Go and study."
Do not disobey G'd
Rabbi Akiva also alluded to the fundamental importance of this commandment. Rashi in his commentary on the above verse quotes how Rabbi Akiva said that this commandment is a major rule of the Torah. However, all this needs clarification. How can it be that loving one's fellow is the basis of the whole Torah? Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, answers this question. 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 deals with the relationship between man and his fellow beings. Based on this, Rashi explains that we find in scripture that G'd is referred to as the "friend" of man. As such, there is a double meaning in Hillel's words. On a simple level, it is to be understood that a person should not do to another human being what the person would not like done to himself. 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 we would dislike if someone disobeyed our instructions, in the same way we shall not disobey G'd's instructions.
Actively help others
This interpretation of not doing to others what we would dislike for ourselves is a command that everyone can be expected to follow. However, this verse has various messages on several levels of co-existence. Some of the commentaries (Ibn Ezra, Malbim and others) point out that the literal translation of this verse reads "And you shall do acts of love to your fellow 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 doing to others what one does not want for oneself; rather, we are expected to actively help others.
Bringing out feelings of love
Rabbi Moishe Chaim Luzatto (Path of Just Chapter 11) takes this commandment to the highest level and explains that a person must love his fellow being exactly as he loves himself. However, this brings us back to the original question, how can we be commanded to love?
In order to answer this question, we must try and define what love means. Some people declare their love for another person and use the expression of love very loosely. It is comparable to someone who says that he "loves fish". The Mussar exponents point out that this is far from the truth. If this person really loved fish, he would purchase an aquarium and spend time, effort and funds to care and provide for them. He really means that he loves to eat fish. In other words, fish satisfy his needs and appetite.
Unfortunately, some people love others the way they "love fish". This kind of love only lasts as long as the person's appetite or desire is satisfied. As the Mishnah says 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". Often feelings of love are only based on certain qualities of the other person. Obviously, it is these qualities, such as beauty, a good sense of humour, or kindness, that creates the initial attraction. But, 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 the other person's qualities then the love will never cease. The obvious question is if the love is not based on qualities, what is it based on? We find the answer to this 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." The Orchas Tzadikim explains that this is just the opposite of what is generally accepted. Most of us would suggest that a person does something for someone he loves; however, our sages here teach us that it is the act of doing something for another person that brings out feelings of true love for that person. Everlasting love is not based on what satisfaction or benefit one receives from the relationship but on what investment one puts into it. Therefore, even if the other person loses some of the qualities this will not result in diminishing the love, because it is not 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). The Mishnah states: "You should acquire for yourself a friend". Says the Rambam, "When you love, do not love by your own measure. Rather love by the measure of the one you love. When both 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 think that a man and woman first must develop a love for each other, and then this would be a reason for them to marry. However, the Torah says (Bereishis 24:67): "And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] 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 a solid foundation 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 their children. If couples would follow the direction of the Torah how to build a loving and lasting relationship, 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 does not only apply in marriages and friendships but also in the relationships between individuals and their community. It is interesting to note that this concept was mentioned by President Kennedy in his inaugural speech: "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."
Jonathan and David
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos uses the friendship between Jonathan and David as an example of true love. They 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 friendship with David since he expected his son to succeed him. But Jonathan did everything he could to assist David to become king.
Giving to others
This ultimate expression of loving one's fellow being as oneself 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 us to love each other as we love ourselves. This requires that one loves oneself. We can only reach such a high level of selflessness if we realize that the ultimate satisfaction in life never comes from amassing benefits and assets for ourselves. On the contrary, nothing makes a person feel as good as when one gives to others, whether individuals or communities. When we manage to achieve everlasting love in our personal life, we are a step closer to 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.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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