Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

Love your neighbor as yourself: that is a commandment. It isn’t a suggestion. It isn’t a nice idea. It isn’t a warm, fuzzy, feel-good message. The Torah is commanding you to love another person.

Isn’t that weird? How do you command love?

Love me. Go ahead. I am ordering you: Love me. Do it. Love me.

How do I make you love me? It sounds crazy.

But think about it.

Pretend you are having a big fight with your sister. She really upset you. You want to kill her.

And your mom walks in the room. You say, “Mom, I hate my sister.”

What is your mom going to say? “Of course you hate your sister. She is a real brat. I hate her too.”

Of course not.

What is your mom going to say? She is going to say:

“You can’t hate your sister. You have to love your sister.”

How can she say that? She can say it because she is commanding you to love. Is she crazy?


She believes that love is command-able.

She believes it just like the Torah does: Love your neighbor as yourself.

But the Torah takes it a step further. It doesn’t just tell you to love another person. It tells you how to love another person.

The verse that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” – also says, “Don’t take revenge and don’t bear a grudge.”

Why? What does one thing have to do with the other? What does taking revenge or bearing a grudge have to do with love?

Actually: everything.

Taking revenge and bearing a grudge are the opposite of love. Taking revenge and bearing a grudge prevent you from loving.

Why? Because when you take revenge or bear a grudge, what you are really doing is harboring resentment.

What is “harboring resentment?” That is a fancy way of saying:

Brooding. Sulking. Dwelling. Or focusing on bad, negative things.

Have you ever been really mad at someone?

What did you do? You thought about the thing the person did. You thought about it again. You mulled it over and over in your mind. And every time you thought about it you thought of another thing. You thought about what he said. You thought about how he said it. You thought about how it happened. You thought about who was watching.

And the more you thought about it, the madder you got.

And as you got mad – and thought about it more – you remembered other things he did too. And you thought through those things. And when you ran out of things you went back to the first thing. And you got angrier and angrier.

You wanted to kill him.

When you dwell or sulk or brood or harbor resentment – when you think about the bad things a person did – and when you associate that person with those things – that horrible, rotten, angry feeling you feel is the opposite of love.

It is hate.

And you can’t love someone when you are busy hating him.

But – and this is key – that is the secret of love. Love is the opposite of hate. Hate is when you think about a person’s bad qualities. Love is when you think about a person’s good qualities.

Focus on the good things a person does. Think about how he helped you, or did something for you, or gave you something, or said something nice, or whatever it was. How do you feel?

Do you feel good?

And how do you feel about the person who did those things? Warm? Fluffy? Yummy? That warm, fluffy, yummy feeling is love.

But the love didn’t just happen. It isn’t magic. It happened because you did something. You thought about the good things. You thought about his actions, his character, his qualities, and his personality. And you put the pieces together.

And it is a mitzvah to do that. It is a mitzvah to think about a person’s good qualities.

The Torah cannot command you to feel something. That is silly. But the Torah can command you to think about something. And it can command you to think about the good things other people do. And thinking about the good things automatically changes the way you feel.

Try it. It works.

Pick a person. It could be anyone. Pick a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, or even a teacher. Think about one good thing that person did or said.

And don’t cheat. Don’t say something silly like, “He is funny.” Think about something real like:
  • If he helped you with your homework
  • Or if he let you cut him on line
  • Or if he lent you money
  • Or if he was nice to you even though you were in a grumpy, antisocial mood
How do you feel?


Of course you do. And that is the reason for this special commandment. Think about other people – don’t focus on the negative – think about the good they do. Think about how great they are.

And you will grow to love them.

And when you love other people, you are happier, you feel better, you can deal with the world, and other people want to deal with you.

That is how you love your neighbor as yourself.

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