Source: The Times of Israel
I recently met with a group of 23 rabbis and taught the approach of four leading Jewish thinkers on how to become a more loving person. The thinkers are Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the Rambam, the Hasidic master S’fat Emet, and Rav Kook. They lay out four different approaches to developing our loving capacities: physical, intellectual, emotional, and mystical.
We spoke at length about how we feel about ourselves when we fail to love the congregant who is difficult to love. The rabbis dejectedly admitted that in such situations, they feel disappointed; worthless; shamed; fragile; frustrated; betrayed; cowardly; defeated; humiliated; and sad.
When I asked for strategies of how to deal with the student who is difficult to love, the rabbis at first suggested either asking the person to leave, or ignoring him or her (sound familiar?).
Eventually, we came to the realization that this difficult person is actually a blessing in our lives. This person offers the opportunity to work on ourselves, open our hearts a bit more, and grow in our loving capacities. In our minds, we moved from avoiding and banishing this person to a sense of purpose and aspiration to self-growth.
As educators, we have let down our students and communities by not focusing more on the soulful work of learning how to become loving.
I think our hesitation to focus our teaching on love comes down to fear. Fear that I may not be a loving person. Fear that if love becomes a primary value in our society, then my honor and prestige as a scholar may be threatened. Fear that love may present a radical disruption in the ladder of security and priorities of society, elevating people who may not be as “sophisticated” while diminishing the roles of the elite. I am one of those who are afraid. My ego is well invested in my public role and accomplishments.
Nevertheless, the time has come to shout from the rooftops: “Judaism is about living in the image of God. The only quality it asks of us to embody is loving ― to be a force of oneness in this world.”
And I’m not the first to say it. R’ Akiva said that “Loving your neighbor” is the fundamental principle of Torah. Pirkei Avot asserts that the most precious human quality is having a “lev tov” (a good heart). Rav Dessler wrote that the primary challenge in life is to transform the ‘desire to take’ into the ‘desire to give’. Rav Ashlag wrote extensively on the centrality of love and giving. Rav Kook wrote that he could not not love:
“The whole goal of our learning is to remove the obstacles from our becoming more loving human beings.” (Orot HaKodesh IV, 389, 39)
Why are sources and ideas absent from our school curricula, synagogue sermons, and community activities?
The Jewish world recently celebrated the conclusion of the 7-year cycle of daf yomi. Beyond the fanfare, I quietly wonder how much the acquisition of pages of content affects our behavior, our society, and most certainly our capacity to love.
What if we had an “Ahava Yomit” project? Promoting and recognizing daily acts of love. Celebrating acts of giving, chesed, and generous loving. Courses, programs, and projects in our schools focusing on acts of love. YouTubes and workshops dedicated to daily acts of love.
What if becoming loving people became a primary community goal, reflected in our schools and synagogues? Classes taught, role models interviewed, videos going viral? We may consider ourselves to be kind, giving, and loving people – but we are all works-in-progress. There is always room to expand our hearts even more.
How much would you give to become a more loving person?
How much would you give to have your children become more loving people?
How much would you give to have more love in your community?
How much would you give to have the Jewish people become a more loving people?
For centuries, Judaism has exalted triumphs of the mind.
The time has come to prioritize our unique power to create oneness, to celebrate and extol the victories of our hearts.
Read the entire article in The Times of Israel.