People have a lot of problems with religion, especially when it comes to the Bible. Parts seem archaic or incompatible with modern living. Punishments can be harsh or unforgiving. Whole sections concern themselves with intricate details about tasks that most people (even living during Biblical times) would/will have no use for. And of course, the notion that all of the above is supposedly the will of an all-seeing, all-knowing being who loves you… Well… when you look at it like that, it certainly seems problematic. But despite reservations there is one commandment everyone agrees has a proper message. And it’s found in this week’s Torah portion.
…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Vayikra 19:18)
Christianity, Buddhism, and every other religion has some form of the love your neighbor as yourself mantra. You don’t even have to be religious to embrace the mentality. So if the sentiment is so universally agreed, why does it seem to be so non-existent in our society?
Because no one really want to do it.
Does anyone REALLY think you should love the guy who cuts you off in traffic? Or steals your parking spot? Or scratches your car and doesn’t even leave a note? (I get most angry at people in car related incidents. Can you tell?) Maybe in theory it’s a good idea. But in practice? C’mon, does anyone really expect you to sincerely love and bless those a**h****s? The answer is yes.
You can love that person and you should love that person. Because if you did then you wouldn’t see them as a**h**** , but as a person with a name, and hopes, and struggles, and dreams. But how do you actually do it?
First step: Always DEFINITIONS
By “loving” thy neighbor, you don’t have to love them more than yourself. If it’s a life and death situation, you’re not obligated to give up your life for their sake. Rambam even says “it’s impossible for all but the saintliest people to feel literally the same love for others as they feel for themselves.” So what are we talking about here? God is commanding us to…
1) Wish others the same level of success and prosperity we wish for ourselves.
2) Treat others with the utmost respect and consideration.
So how do we do that for the people that are hard to love?
Well for one thing, as with any development of character traits, it’s going to take time and persistence. Think of it like a muscle. The HaKsav V’HaKabbalah gives a list of exercises to develop it. (I’m not going to list all of them.)
- Your affection for others should be real, not feigned. That seems obvious, but we all fall into that trap at least once. Maybe it’s time to reexamine those relationships?
- Always treat others with respect. It’s important enough to mention twice. If you’ve ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, a cornerstone of the philosophy is treating everyone with respect. Especially people who can’t do anything to benefit you.
- Join in their pain. This one, I’m sorry to say, I have been guilty of neglecting time and again. How many homeless people do you pass on giving a dollar to? Ever think of where they slept last night? How many times do you pass a car accident and not say a prayer? Even if no one was hurt. Do you remember all the crap you had to deal with the last time you were in an accident? Insurance, body shops, car rentals, deductibles. Those people are hurting. That’s for sure.
- Greet them with friendliness. You wanna know where this one really works? Customer service/tech support. Believe me, those people get yelled at and told they’re stupid all day. If you can surprise these people with pleasantness (even if they aren’t able to help you they you want them to) you’d be amazed how much giving them a break will change the conversation.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. This one is a commandment in and of itself. I can’t begin to tell you how essential it is. I’ll just say, it’s a shame we live in a world where popular thinking is “It’s better not give to charity because this person might be a fraud,” rather than ” It’s essential to give to charity because they might really be in need.”
The full story.
The quote from the Torah is actually not the whole sentence. The full line is…
You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Okay. So what’s the difference between taking revenge and bearing a grudge? Let’s say you go to your neighbor and ask to borrow a hammer and your neighbor says “No.” Then the next day he comes to you and asks to borrow a wrench and you say “Because you didn’t let me borrow your hammer, I’m not going to let you borrow my wrench.” That’s revenge. Now if the same thing happens, but when he comes back to you to ask for the wrench you instead say, “Sure you can borrow my wrench. I’m not like you,” that’s bearing a grudge. As you can see above, both attitudes are forbidden.
But why are those two qualities specifically tied to “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”? Because the Torah is telling us the real mitzvah in loving your neighbor is found when it is hardest to do. (And most delicious not to do.)
We ourselves are not perfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes we text when we know someone is waiting for our parking space. Eat the last whatever when we know someone else probably wants it. Why are we able to forgive and look past those things in ourselves? Because we are in touch with our own wants and needs. Our perspective is so perfectly clear to us. (Obviously, duh. It’s our perspective.) But if we are able to extend our mindfulness to consider other perspectives, see other’s needs as our own, then that’s the key. That’s why giving someone the benefit of the doubt (#5 above) plays such an important role.
So the next time someone cuts you off or drives in the exit only lane only to wedge themselves back into your lane, actually consider that they might be late for work. No pretend they ARE late for work. Then give them the break they need.