There’s a rabbinic statement: “Mitzvah gorreret mitzvah, Aveirah gorreret aveirah.” It refers to the fact that a mitzvah (the fulfillment of an obligation or the doing of a good deed) leads to doing more of the same. Similarly, when you do an act that you shouldn’t do, it’s easier to do another one. The rabbis had a good understanding of human behavior.
In a slightly different realm, this is also true about the attitudes and behaviors we see around us. When we are with kind people, we experience their kindness and attempt to be kind ourselves. When we’re with nasty folks, we can get nasty!
One of the dangers of today’s environment is that, in addition to all the threatening events, the world is filled with hatred and fear and conversations about revenge. And these pictures, words, and emotions begin to have a devastating impact on the spirit and the psyche of each of us. I write about this frequently; I think about it more. I want to live in an emotional and spiritual space that allows for hope and love. Amongst the victims of perpetrators of horrific acts are the average people who become bombarded with messages of hatred and fear.
It’s for that reason that today I’d like to write a little about love. In the siddur, morning and evening, we sing a prayer about God’s love. And we have seen God’s love manifested in the receiving of Torah. We believe that its teachings and regulations are a gift of love. Like a parent who cares for a child, love is not just an emotional expression; love is found in responsibility, in teaching, in placing boundaries, and in time given.
In our tradition, there is no word for romantic love. There is “ahavah” which is a love of mutual responsibility – I care for you…you care for me. We respond to each other and love each other, and show it by responsiveness and acts of caring. There is another kind of love. It is called “rachmanut.” This is a merciful love. This is a love that contains forgiveness and is unconditional. It’s the love of a parent for a child. It is the love of God for His people. And there is a love known as “yediah.” This is the Biblical love of knowledge. This is a deep love of understanding. And this is a love of profound intimacy.
On this Shabbat, when we read about the many rules and regulations that come after the receiving of the Ten Commandments, let us not forget that these were given in love. They were given to help us open our eyes to others.
And as our contemporary culture celebrates a day of love, let us use our capacities to hear, see, feel and express the love we have for each other…and for those around us. Maybe it’ll spread, just a little bit. Maybe it’ll create a little hope and an ounce of optimism. And, maybe it’ll be returned. We need it.
See you in shul.
Rabbi David Steinhardt
This column is dedicated to the memory of Rubin Shafran z”l