How can we truly, practically implement “v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” (you shall love your fellows as yourself) into our everyday life? It’s one of Judaism’s most famous sayings, yet with small pockets of infighting and hatred among groups of Jews in Israel, it seems to have been forgotten.
What can one say? If we look at each person with respect, we are well on the road. Respect other Jews despite the way they differ. Do not assume that every individual non-observant Jew is a flawed person and deliberately, knowingly defies Jewish observance and practice. Do not assume that every Orthodox Jew looks down upon the non-Observant. When most Orthodox Jews meet and look at a Reform Jew, a Conservative Jew, a Humanist Jew, an atheist Jew, the Orthodox Jew thinks the following:
(i) Is my job secure?
(ii) Can I meet my monthly mortgage or lease obligation?
(iii) Are my kids OK?
(iv) Is my marriage secure?
(v) Is Obama good for America, or do we need a change?
(vi) How will Israel overcome the never-ending machinations against her?
That is what people really are thinking. Understand that, at bottom, we have mostly the same problems, the same concerns, the same dreams. Respect one another. Yes, beware of phony people, of liars, of people who smile and speak pleasantly but deceive as they do so. At the same time, know that most Jews are pretty decent, just like you. Don’t assume that they dislike or contemn you. Respect them. Accept differences.
That won’t solve everything, but it will go a long way.
The Torah tradition is wonderful and sacred. But it is not perfect. Sometimes it even offers support for very harsh attitudes.
The verse right before "love your fellows as yourself" is "do not hate your brother in your heart." To this, the Talmud says (Pesachim 113b): "But if you see him doing something perverse, then you are permitted - even obliged - to hate him." I can understand how this teaching might have its place, and how it might help us respond to genuine evil in our community. For instance, we should not "love" Jewish pimps, thieves and drug dealers so much that we explain away their exploitative behavior.
But this teaching has been invoked all too often to draw a narrow limit to our obligations of love on ideological grounds. I can't love him, some of us say, he wants to give away the Land of Israel! I can't love her, she violates Shabbat! Those guys are homophobic! He's a heretic! She's a fundamentalist!
The real trick is to be able to love those whom we think are wrong, and to work beside them even when we view the world very differently. It is always too easy to assume that those with whom we have very serious differences are actually bad people. Assume the opposite: figure that the people you dispute with are good people, choosing their views according to their moral reasoning and best intentions.
Such a grand and challenging query deserves more than this, by necessity, brief response. Nonetheless, I would point out that if things were obvious and easy, there would be little reason for the Torah to comment. So in this instance, it isn’t easy to love the other and, equally, it isn't easy to love self. The only real measure is in what direction we are moving – to become bitter or better. And while there has been no shortage of ugliness in the disputes of Jewish life, I would love to offer two suggestions. First, even arguments may demonstrate a genuine concern, a love for the other. Indeed may more of our disputations be for the sake of heaven. Second, I recall a suggestion attributed to the awesome Rav Kook. His teaching urges that the best response to "causeless hatred" (often cited as the central factor in the destruction of the 2nd Temple) is "causeless love." In short, whatever the dispute and wherever we may be in that argument, may love inform our contributions. In such ways, we may learn from, grow with and, yes, love one another.
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