Posts Tagged With: devekut

“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”

G-d said it.  Jesus said it.  Gandhi said it.  Along with countless others throughout history.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We all know about this famous–often slightly different–line, often called the golden rule, but do we actually know about it?  Do we know what its about; what it means?

This is a tweak of the most often repeated command in the torah, “Love the stranger,” and there have been many different thoughts regarding it by the various sages and commentators of torah throughout the generations.  Here I will share with you my thoughts on the subject.

There are basically two kinds of commandments: those between man and G-d, and those between man and man.  The latter is also between man and G-d, as each man is a creation of the Holy One, created “b’tzalmo,” in his image.  The mitzvoth (commandments) between G-d and man are important, but it would seem as if G-d is more concerned with us following those mitzvoth between man and man.  I think that this is why the command to “love your neighbor,” is repeated so many times, because it all boils down to that.  The great sage Hillel was asked to teach a pagan the whole torah while the man stood on one foot.  Rav Hillel responded, “that which is hateful to you, do to no one.  That is the whole torah, the rest is commentary, now go and learn it.”  powerful and interesting words.

So, how can he say, “this is the whole torah?”  Is he just being flippant; or is there a deeper meaning that we are to learn from this?  It could be possible, that ALL of the mitzvoth are intended to be for the benefit of both man’s relationship to his fellow, and his relationship with G-d.  In fact, I wouldn’t doubt it if somebody, in some commentary, somewhere, has said this very same thing.  It seems logical to me.

-Mitzvoth between man and G-d, are meant to keep man in a spiritual plain of being, and center him around those things which are truly important in life.  From giving tzedakah (charity) to the laying of tefillin (phylacteries), to the temple offerings (these days, this is taken up by prayer), these practices teach us not to value possessions over our souls, and to build a bridge and devekut (cleaving) to The Endless One.

-If man is on a spiritual plain of being, and not valuing the material over the ethereal, he is able to connect to his fellow man who may have much more–materialistically speaking–or may have less.  He can also connect better with his fellow man who may have much more, or much less in a spiritual sense.  In this way, there is almost a kind of socialism of thought and practice, more than a socialism (charity) of economics.

-We can conclude through this scenario, that those mitzvoth which appear to be concerned only with the relationship of man and G-d, are also a main driving force to the healthy relationship between man and his fellow.

In a strictly semantic, Torah sense, the sages tell us that the word גר-ger (stranger) refers to one who has converted to judaism, and not to all strangers.  There are, in fact, many different words that refer to somebody who was or is an outsider.  Since Torah was written for, and given to the children of Israel, references in it such as “a man who…” are referring to the children of Israel.  This is not derisive or an expression of superiority in any way.  It is similar to how US law may say–in a theoretical situation– “an immigrant who….” and it would not be singling the immigrant out as being lesser, just as an immigrant.  The law would not specify, “a native born american,” because that would be understood under the language of, “a person who….”  I hope this is making sense.  Sometimes my thoughts make sense inside my head, but not once they come out, so I have read over this many times.

According to this teaching and understanding of torah, the command to “love the ger” is meaning to “love the immigrant to your people, who has taken upon himself the laws of your land.”  This is the love whose command is repeated so many times.

This does not, however, mean that it is ok according to torah to hate others who are not a part of your people (whether born or converted).  There are, in fact, more mitzvoth and halacha (jewish law) that concern the relationship between the jewish people and non-jews.  There would, for example, be no way to be “or l’goyim” (a light to the nations) if hatred of them were permitted.  And to further touch on the “spiritual plane” thought, perhaps there would be no way to be or l’goyim without being on a spiritual plane–if what we are to show the goyim is what G-d truly desires of people: respect and love for the world.

Since I have stated that all of the mitzvoth between man and G-d are also for the benefit of human relationship, then it seems to follow reason that all of the second category are ways in which we express love to G-d through his creations.  As I said above, every person is created b’tzalmo, in his image.  If the category of the first, and the category of the second are in essence expressing love to G-d, then the dictum of Hillel, “that which is hateful to you, do to nobody,” makes more sense in terms of covering the whole torah.

There is something that troubles me a little bit here, however; if we are simply not doing to others “that which is hateful” to us, are we really doing them good?  Maybe this is the same type of thinking as the Latin maxim premum non nocere, “first, do no harm.”  If we are not harming, at least we are not making the world worse, but we are not making it better either.  Once we do something though, if we are not doing harm, we must be engaged in “good.”  We must be performing acts which are ultimately beneficial to all–the main focus of all the mitzvoth!

I’m going to stop writing now, for tonight, because I’m tired and I think I’m just starting to ramble on.  Let me know what you think of this and other blog posts in the comments section below, if you please.  I am new to blogging, and find it to be quite therapeutic to be able to get my thoughts out (so I would probably even blog if only a type of diary), but I would like to be able to morph my style and content into a more interesting version of itself.

Shalom, salaam, forever.

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If You Can’t be With The One You Love…

…Love the one you’re with!  Love the one you’re with!  Love the one you’re–do do do do do do doodoo!

A friend of mine just went through–or better put, is going through a heartbreak right now.  He told me that he believes that there is such a thing as true love, as two people being meant to be together.  He asked me if I thought so too.  Now let me explain a little something here about myself.  I am an idealistic romantic.  I met my wife when we were both teenagers.  We had four children by the time I was 26.  We have been married for 13 and a half years, and have almost been divorced three times!  What did I say to my friend whose shoes I have a pair of as well (I wear them from time to time)?  “I used to think that way.  Now I think the answer is both yes and no.”  I realize that this could very easily be an extremely confusing concept, so let me further explain.

On one side we have a concept of “the perfect match.”  While this is an absolutely beautiful ideal, on its surface at least, it is really nothing but a romantic self-delusion.  In order for there to be just one “perfect” match, we would have to believe that we do not live in a world of seven billion people.  Even if we are to still believe in “the one,” there still leaves the problem of irreconcilable differences that would logically rule out a good deal of the population as suitable companions.  We have differences such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, etc, etc, etc.  For some people, just rooting for the wrong football team is enough to rule out perfection of match!  With all of these possible variables, not to mention myriad others, the field within which each person will search for “the one” becomes smaller and smaller.  But what if the “cosmic” right choice is not our choice?  What if the “perfect” match exists among those whom we have already ruled as being outside the realm of possibility?  You may be feeling that the very possibility of “the perfect match” is starting to dwindle as you consider the statistical difficulties involved with reconciling such thought.  One question comes quickly to mind, however; what about all of the couples who are truly happy, loving, and perfect for each other?

What if I told you that happiness, love, and perfection, are all choices that we make?  In fact, with a few small caveats (which I’ll get to shortly), choice is just as important a factor in these cases, as is is in what you will eat for lunch, whether you drive or walk, or whether you drink water or soda.  Whether we will, and who we will love, is choice based, not fate based.  If it were fate based, then it would be nearly impossible–given the sheer number of statistical possibilities for matches–that any two people would ever love each other or be happy.  And yet, we see many examples of arranged or quick marriages that can blossom into beautifully loving couples, and people who are madly in love from the get-go who don’t make it past a few years.  What is the secret to a lasting, loving relationship?

I spoke of caveats.  There are people who, whether by nurture or nature (a completely different debate) who have a natural proclivity toward loving a broader spectrum of people, and far easier than others can ever dream of doing.  Lets call these, “innate lovers.” These people often desire to make peace, speak diplomatically, and act according to a high sense of morals (whether religious or not) that are often centered on “the golden rule.”  Apart from these people with a natural tendency toward loving others, there are also, oftentimes, many people who have “been to hell and back,” and have decided that while it may be difficult, loving others is something that is ultimately beneficial.  We can call these people, “pragmatic lovers.” Pragmatic lovers often come off as benevolent, or even philanthropic in society and relationships, and while they are such things, they often do so because the data reflects that as the most positive action. Closely related to pragmatic lovers, are “acquired lovers.”  Acquired lovers, are the type of people for whom love is neither simply natural, nor simply pragmatic.  Like learning how to enjoy wine, or brussels sprouts, acquired lovers learn to enjoy loving and being loved.

I believe that any combination of these type of lovers can work together.  I also believe, however, that in most cases it takes a lot of time and hard work.  If both parties aren’t innate lovers, then all too often such unions end because one party doesn’t understand the other.  It isn’t their fault.  The acquired lover can’t understand why his innate lover is so needy all the time.  The innate lover can’t understand what requires so much consideration that the pragmatic lover can’t just love her without having to see the benefit in doing so.  The pragmatic lover can’t understand why the acquired lover has to be backed into a no-win scenario before learning how to love him.  Even if both parties are innate lovers, the relationship can sometimes fail because there is no balance for the neediness that they both exude.

Jewish tradition speaks of all souls being united at their creation, but how on their way into this world they are torn into two halves.  The ultimate journey of the soul, is to find its counterpart and become whole again.  Sefer Bereishit/the book of Genesis says, that Adam and Eve were a model for cleaving and becoming one flesh.  The word translated as “cleave” is דבק-davak, which has a connotation not just as a fleshly coupling, but also as a spiritual coupling, a completeness.  The same word is used to describe the ideal of man’s relationship with G-d.  Later in Bereishit, however, we are told of polygamist unions, as well as the finding of a spouse after the death of her predecessor.  In such cases, I do not think it impossible for the person to make the conscious decision to “love the one” he’s with.  In other words…

The answer that you will get from me, as to whether or not it is possible that a person has a perfect match is, yes.  There is more to it, however, in that the perfect match is the one in whom you choose to find perfection.  That is why it is so, damned, difficult, to handle it when the object of your affection chooses to break up with you.  You may be thinking that everything is perfect, and he just can’t see it.  Maybe you can bring her around to your way of thinking.  With enough time-

Stop, stop, stop.  The only way the other person is going to love you back, is if he/she chooses to do so.  This may sound like an incredibly bleak reality.  “If this is true,” you might say, “then what is the freakin point?  Why even bother?”  For a person with love to give, being able to give the love is a gift in itself.  So, for whatever time a woman allows you to give her love, enjoy it.  If that special man is reciprocal, even better!  But life is too short to hedge your bets.  Even if you find yourself in a situation where you are wondering how long it will last, LOVE ANYWAY.  Believe me, loving someone–even if you have to decide to, or acquire the taste for it–is the best gift that you can give yourself.  And when it does work that the person loves you back, even if just for a week, a month, a year, or a decade, there is nothing powerful enough to stop the two of you, nothing in this world.

I leave you in the immortal words of Don Cornelius, “I bid you peace, love, and soul!”

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