To truly love something, we must be in relationship with it; putting in our most valuable resources, such as time and affection. We should begin by acknowledging love is incredibly complex and no two people love in the same way. That being said, we all direct our love through the same three channels: the love of the abstract or ideas—sports, music, countries, or theories, the love we have for other individuals—friends, family, mentors, and the capacity we have to love ourselves. No matter what, who, or how we love, it always requires the commitments of time and affection.
Let’s dive a little deeper into all three ideas, first with loving the abstract. Personally, this is best illustrated by my love of Israel and my love for Texas Longhorn Football. Israel is a life-long love of mine. I first traveled there in high school, and just twelve days after I graduated from university I moved my life to Jerusalem where I lived and studied for a year as a part of my Rabbinic training. I care deeply about Israel, her people, her politics, and her security. I also want to explicitly state that I do not believe that having a solely positive relationship with Israel is a necessary component of an authentic Jewish identity—but it is an important part of mine. However, because Israel is an abstract entity to love, it can’t love back. In fact, at times, it can be profoundly disappointing.
Sadly, the same goes for Texas Football. Now, I grew up a Longhorn fan. Both of my parents were Longhorns, both of my older sisters were Longhorns, they both married Longhorns, and naturally, I too graduated from the University of Texas. But we aren’t just fans. We all love the Texas Longhorns. No matter if we are National Champions or losing week after week, we dedicate a little time to watch our team play. In my son’s first week of life, he wore a burnt orange polo and watched his first game! When we win we celebrate, and when we lose, we are devastated. Loving the Longhorns is not always an easy task, but we put in the time and energy.
The second channel finds our love being directed towards people. This type of love feels vastly different from the love of the abstract, but it requires the same amount of time, energy, and attentiveness, if not more! Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler is quoted as saying, “Love is a consequence of giving. When a person gives, it is as if they are giving part of themselves.” Anyone who has ever been in love knows that to truly love another person means to give all of yourself to that person. To extend your soul as to strengthen each other. To give another person our time, our affection, and our passion—this is what it truly means to love the other.
In Parshat Kedoshim, God instructs us “to love your fellow as yourself.” Now, it is ostensibly pretty easy to love your partner, child, or friends, but we are instructed to love “your fellow”; to dedicate time and affection to “the other”. This is truly a timely lesson, for the categorical “other” in our society is in true need of a little love. And how do we manifest this love for our fellow humans? We dedicate ourselves to stand up and use our voices to help all peoples. I am reminded of the prominent poetic words of Martin Niemöller, a German pastor during WWII, who famously penned:
First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
A simple yet powerful message. We show our love by speaking out and standing up for “the other” among us. This poem is commanding and timeless. Yet, I would love to share with you the potent words of Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, who modified this classic piece to echo the lesson embedded within it. Rabbi Adam-Latz writes:
First, they came for the African Americans, and I spoke up –
Because I am my sisters’ and brothers’ keeper.
And then they came for the women, and I spoke up –
Because women hold up half the sky.
And then they came for the immigrants, and I spoke up –
Because I remember the ideals of our democracy.
And then they came for the Muslims, and I spoke up –
Because they are my cousins and we are one human family.
And then they came for the Native Americans and Mother Earth,
and I spoke up –
Because the blood-soaked land cries and the mountains weep.
They keep coming. We keep rising up.
Because we Jews know the cost of silence.
We remember where we came from.
And we will link arms, because when you come for our neighbors,
you come for us….
And THAT just won’t stand.
To love another means to give of oneself, to stand up for all people, and to dedicate time, concern and affection.
Lastly, our love can be directed towards ourselves. We can take the same verse from Kedoshim, “Love your fellow as yourself…” and see how the Torah presents loving ourselves as a given. We need to be instructed to love the other, but the Torah assumes we naturally love ourselves. This can be a challenging disconnect for many people in our community who struggle with mental health, body image, or any number of obstacles. As it turns out, self-love is not always as easy of a task as Torah might present. This type of love also takes many different forms! It can mean keeping your body healthy; exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. At the same time, loving yourself can also mean allowing yourself to splurge; to have a little extra dessert, or to occasionally stay up too late because it makes you happy. In the wise words of Donna Meagle from Parks and Rec., every once in a while you need to “treat yo’ self”! In a world filled with high expectations and prolonged anxiety we need to remember to pause and take the time for a little self-care.
Love is complicated. It looks different for everyone, but it requires the same elements from all of us. I would like to conclude by challenging you. Right now, before you go on to the next article, I want you to reach out to a loved one and tell them how much you care about them. Tell them you love them, tell them why you love them and how much they mean to you. Our world needs more love, now more than ever before. Let that love stem from the hearts of this community and the hearts of the Jewish people.
“Any love that depends on a specific cause, when that cause is gone, the love is gone; but if it does not depend on a specific cause, it will never cease.” Pirkei Avot, 5:19
Header image design by Orly Zebak and Clarrie Feinstein.
Rabbi Zachary Goodman was born in Dallas, Texas and currently resides in Toronto with his wife, Katie, and son, Abraham. Rabbi Goodman was ordained on the historic Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and now serves as the Assistant Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple. In addition to his responsibilities at Holy Blossom, Rabbi Goodman is also a partner of the Lishma: Jewish Learning Collective and a member of the ARZA Canada board.