Loving Likeness

 Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Many of us are familiar with the verse, “Ve’ahavta lereyacha kamocha/Love your neighbor as yourself” and with Rabbi Akiva’s statement that this is klal gadol baTorah/a basic principle of the Torah. Two elementary questions immediately arise. First, what makes loving another so quintessential to the entire Torah, and second, how is it possible to love another as you would love yourself. One can further question, as Rabbi Goldwicht z”l does, whether loving oneself is inherently a good thing, and, as Rabbi Reiss verbalizes the common question of how can one command emotions, especially love which takes time to develop.

In truth, writes Rabbi Reiss, so many of our mitzvoth are based on this principle of loving another, from the prohibitions against stealing to bearing a grudge. On a practical level, according to the Rambam, this means we should be concerned for the personal welfare and possessions of others just as we would be concerned for our own welfare and goods. Further, we should be happy at others’ good fortune and achievements and not harbor any jealousy toward them.

In truth, writes Rabbi Schlesinger, creation itself is founded not on strict justice but in the symbiotic relationship of kindness and mercy, of a relationship between a giver and a receiver. This relationship of giver and receiver exists not only in society but in the very nature of life on earth, from photosynthesis to procreation. How much more important is it for the functioning of society, whether in a bartering with others for individual needs or using an economic system where people buy and sell their goods and services through the use of money. The relationship must be properly balanced, and in society, sometimes one is on the giving end of the relationship while at other times one is on the receiving end. One gives and receives not only financially, but also with services and with emotional support, validation and encouragement. Therefore it is important to learn and to teach our children to both give and receive in healthy ways, and to be able to share with each other our joys as well as our challenges. [Many years ago I learned a valuable lesson from a dear friend of mine. She had lost her husband rather suddenly and was left with three young children. In this situation she taught me that: A. If the situation were reversed, she would certainly want to give and help the other. Why should she deny someone else the opportunity to give. B. Why should the receiver consider herself any less deserving of help than any person she herself would be willing to give to. C. It takes a person with a healthy and strong sense of self and of her own value to be willing to accept help graciously. CKS]

We tend to live a simple, superficial life influenced by the values of the secular society in which we live, writes Rabbi Yerucham Leibowitz. It is but a hair’s breadth that separates that empty, Gehinom lifestyle from a full, rich life of Gan Eden. What would it take for us to notice someone who needs help, to offer a moment of encouragement, to value the opportunity to do chesed rather than immediately think, “What’s in it for me?” Even worse, “What excuse can I give to get out of doing this chesed?” Olam chesed yiboneh/The world exists on kindness, and it is our obligation to strengthen the foundation of the world.

But even if one accepts the necessity of loving one another, how can one love the other as he loves himself/kamochaIdit Sheb’idit offers two interesting possibilities. First, from Likutei Klei Chemdah, he notes that just as we do not value each of our body parts equally, an injury to one’s fingernail would not garner the same anguish as an injury to one’s eye, for example, so too we should value each individual, but not necessarily all equally. And the Divrei Aish turns the phrase on its head.  We may argue that we would love our friend more if he would only be more [fill in your favorite attribute – friendly, magnanimous, understanding, quiet-] try to be more of that yourself. Finally, as the Ramban interprets it, you should wish good things for your friend just as you would for yourself, without any jealousy.

Rabbi Shimon Shkop z”l, as cited in Letitcha Elyon, makes a profoundly insightful observation here. If one is to love another as one loves oneself, one must first love himself, and one must appreciate his personal uniqueness and specialness. Only then can he love another as he loves himself.

Rabbi Goldwicht z”l beautifully elaborates on this idea. Self love is not a matter of valuing the externals of self, but of understanding one’s unique strengths and talents that will help him fulfill his mission in life. While one must certainly be aware of one’s shortcomings, if one does not also recognize his strengths, he will never be able to overcome his weaknesses and he will live an empty life. Observe the diva or the bully. If you look closely enough, you will realize that he thinks so little of himself that the only way he can make himself feel important is by putting someone else down.

In the reverse of this, Rabbi Wolbe  z”l notes that when we recognize our own intrinsic worth, not the external trappings, our neshamah is working properly and we can see the intrinsic worth in others. I know that by bestowing honor on another, I am in no way diminishing my own worth.

Taking this one step further, Rabbi Reiss shifts from our personal perspective to the Torah perspective. The Torah tells us that Man, and thus all men, was created in the image of God. That means that I can connect to every human being, for I can recognize a bit of an internal mirror image of me in you. I can honor you for your intrinsic value and purpose rather than for the external trappings and packaging of status, wealth or physical attributes of strength or beauty.

One of the questions we will be asked when our souls enter the World of Truth is, “Did you make your friend a king over you?’ This is not an idle question, writes the Ohel Moshe, but rather a way of determining if you recognized the image of God in your fellow man. As Rabbi Reiss explains, your loving others is connected to your love of Hashem Himself, for if you see the image of God in the other, and you love Hashem, you will automatically love him. And, if you truly see the image of God in everyone, writes Haketav VehaKabalah, you will not allow your ego to convince you that you are better than anyone else.

In a sense, then, what you see in another is a reflection of your own image.  If you generate positivity, the other will reflect and generate positivity. Think positive and see his goodness. In this format, Otzrot Hatorah cites the verse from Mishleh: “As water reflects a face back to a face, so one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.” (27:18) But, asks Otzrot Hatorah, why does King Solomon use the image of water instead of the image of a mirror. After all, a mirror would seem a more obvious choice when discussing reflections. Here is the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech. When one is looking at a mirror, one is usually upright, but when looking at one’s reflection in water, one is forced to bend over since water cannot stand upright. When one stands upright and rigid in his own position, he can seldom see and accept the worth and opinion of another. When one is humble and stoops, one can accept and value the views and contributions of others and can create relationships.

Only when one looks beyond oneself can one truly see the other. Divrei Eliyahumakes this point by checking the letters immediately beyond reyacha. Following the Reish is the Shin; following the Ayin is the Pheh, and following the Chaf is Lamed. Those three neighbors, or friends, of reyacha spell shaphel, low, humble. Only by lowering yourself to look at the other and making room for him can you become his friend and love him.

If you want to connect to another, be involved in doing good for them, teaches Rabbi Reiss, for love begins and grows as you invest part of yourself in him. Then you can literally see yourself and your effort in him.

Pirkei Avot gives us the first step in establishing a relationship. Be the first to greet others. Rabbi Bunim z”l explains, quoting Matityahu ben Heresh. Don’t stand on ceremony and be afraid of losing your dignity if the other fails to respond. After all your failure to greet him may make him feel insecure. Greet him, and ask after his welfare. Greet others with Shalom, peace, a blessing that He Whose Name is Shalom be with them. In fact, if someone greets us and we fail to respond, we are considered gazlanim/thieves. The great Shammai who is known for his stern and strict interpretation of halachah urged us to be the initiator to greet the other with a friendly, smiling face.

What is so special about a smile? Rabbi Wolbe  z”l posits that smiling at someone is often referred to as he’orat panim/lighting up the face. [We also often say, “Her smile lights up the room.” CKS] That is because a smile reveals the soul. A baby’s smile revealing a pure neshamah invariably produces a responding smile, a connection. We wait for a smile from a friend or a teacher, even from a stranger. A smile validates us and gives our lives meaning. Shower your children with smiles as a matter of routine. Validate how important they are to your life. A smile is like a thread that sews two people together.

While we may try to initiate a greeting upon meeting someone, they may succeed in greeting us first. Therefore  you should add to the blessing of the greeting. If they said, “Shalom/Peace/Hello,” or, “Good morning,” you can answer with, “Shalom u’vracha/Peace and blessings [upon you],”  or, “Good morning and good day,” writes Rabbi Fuchs in Hilchot bein Adam Lachavero.

A blessing/greeting is even valid when the recipient is not present. The sefer Ayin Tovah  relates that the Alter of Slabodka z”l would utter a blessing when he passed the house of a rosh yeshivah, explaining that in remembering the rosh yeshivah he wanted to bless him, whether the rosh yeshivah himself was standing before him or whether he was simply being reminded of him when passing his house.

The key, however, is to give with a full heart, whether it’s smile, a gift, or assistance. It is the smile and the greeting accompanying any other gift that begins the process of loving your neighbor as yourself.