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Loving All God's Creatures

Judaism teaches us that a person cannot put on "performances." Such behavior might be effective momentarily, yet it will not yield fruit for long. To fulfill the commandment to love God's creatures, a person must feel love for them in his heart.


Rabbi Elyakim Levanon

Shvat 5767
A. Eschew Evil: "Thou Shall Not Hate"
B. Do Good:
1. Love in the Heart
2. Mercy or Love?
3. "The Words of the Wise Are Heard in Quiet"

A. Eschew Evil: "Thou Shall Not Hate"
Before addressing the trait of love, one must learn and know how we relate to hate. Is there a prohibition against hating transgressors? Do the words "Thou shall not hate" relate to them as well?

The Talmud (Pesachim 113b) cites R' Shmuel in the name of Rav who says that "one who sees another person transgress is permitted to hate him." R' Nachman bar Yitzchak adds: "There is an obligation to hate him!"

However, we find that early authorities are at odds on this matter. There are those who hold that the verse "Do not hate your brother in your heart, reprimand your fellow" (Leviticus 19:17) relates only to one who is your brother and your fellow, and that the prohibition against hating does not apply to one who ignores or violates Torah commandments (Sheiltot D'Rav Chai, Vayeshev, Sheilta 27).

On the other hand, there are other early authorities who explain that the verse is to be seen as a unified whole: "Do not hate your brother" - so long as you have not reprimanded him. Perhaps if you reprimand him he will accept your reproof and refrain from sinning (see the words of the Natziv in Haamek Davar on the Sheiltot who explains that this accords with Rashi's opinion).

According to this position, there is a prohibition which outlaws hating transgressors, and the dispensation to do so only applies after they have been reprimanded. Accordingly, there is absolutely no allowance today to hate those who violate the Torah, because the Talmud (Arakhim 7b) explains that we no longer have anybody who really knows how to reprimand. Therefore, practically speaking, there is absolutely no dispensation to hate.

In his work "Ahavat Chessed," Chafetz Chaim brings a list of instructions from "Marganita Taba," and in section seventeen he writes:
"One should exert oneself for the good of others, pursue peace and beware of the prohibition against hating. It is even forbidden to hate a completely wicked person if he has not first been reprimanded, for if somebody were to reprimand him he might accept it. However, in our generation there is nobody who knows how to reprimand. Therefore, one should simply request mercy for him, that God help him make complete repentance."

B. Do Good:
1. Love in the Heart
An important rule in our life is that a person cannot put on "performances." Such behavior might be effective momentarily, yet it will not yield fruit for long. In order to fulfill the commandment to love God's creatures, a person must feel love for them inside of his heart.

Of a person who shows his fellow a pleasant countenance yet does not feel this way in his heart, King Solomon says, "As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man" (Proverbs 27:19). Just as a person's face is reflected in the water, so the heart of one person feels what is in the heart of another regarding him. Therefore, the initial step is to change the heart's sentiment, to uproot the hatred from it, as it says in the verse, "Do not hate . . . in your heart." One must then sew the trait of love in its place.

It is not easy to love a person or community that sins. Difficulty is added when we sense feelings of animosity towards us. All the same, we must adopt the ways of the Almighty Who loves all of His creatures, even those who act counter to His will.

On the verse "Who is a God like you, who pardons iniquity, and passes over the transgression" (Micha 7:18) the Ramak comments that even while a person is performing a transgression, God supports him and sustains his soul and life. We, too, must learn from God's path; even if somebody sows animosity towards us, we must train our hearts to love him. Love in the heart will illuminate the world of human endeavor, and the manifestation of love will achieve perfection.

2. Mercy or Love?
The Aramaic word for "mercy" envelopes the two Hebrew concepts of "mercy" (rachamim) and "love" (ahava). This can be seen by the fact that the Hebrew verse "Love the Lord your God" is translated into Aramaic by Onkelos as "Show mercy towards God." At the same time, the Hebrew word for mercy is also translated as "mercy" by Onkelos (see Genesis 43:14). In Aramaic, then, the concepts are combined; love is mercy and mercy is love. However, this is only due to the language's lack of clarity. The holy tongue has an edge on Aramaic in its ability to distinguish between these two traits.

In reality, one must be especially careful not to mix these two traits. When a person senses that somebody loves him, he becomes happy. On the other hand, when a person feels as if he is being pitied, the tendency is to react negatively. This is because loving means accepting everything there is in another person. Love creates a bond between people, and through bonding it is possible to change one's fellow and better him.

Our beloved mentor, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, made a practice of underscoring the words of the Mishnah (Avot 1): "Hillel says, 'Be of the students of Aaron; love God's creatures and draw them near to Torah.' " It is not written "love God's creatures in order to draw them near to Torah," because such love is insincere, rather, "love God's creatures" - even ordinary people, estranged from the Torah - and through the bonding power of love it is possible to draw them near to Torah.

Mercy, on the other hand, is evoked in response to weakness and haplessness. We have mercy upon the helpless because they lack power or means. Therefore, let us accustom ourselves not to have mercy upon transgressors but to love them. If many follow this path, the general atmosphere will certainly be cleansed and an opening will be formed to draw them close to Torah.

3. "The Words of the Wise Are Heard in Quiet"
"On the eve of the Sabbath just before night, a man must say three things in his house: 'Have you rendered tithes? Have you prepared the eruv? Kindle the [sabbath] lamp!' " (Shabbat 34a). The Talmud adds: "These things must be said with sweet reasonableness, so that they be accepted from him." Both love and hate are likened to a blazing fire. Therefore, we are liable, even out of love, to send sparks of fire flying before somebody, and this can cause estrangement and disparagement.

Let us, then, seek council in the words of the sages (Yoma 86a):
" 'And thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' i.e., that the Name of Heaven be beloved because of you. If someone studies Scripture and Mishnah, and attends on the disciples of the wise, is honest in business, and speaks pleasantly to persons, what do people then say concerning him? 'Happy the father who taught him Torah, happy the teacher who taught him Torah; woe unto people who have not studied the Torah; for this man has studied the Torah, and just look how fine his ways are, how righteous his deeds!' "

Being "honest in business" and speaking "pleasantly to persons" means to discuss matters and present ideas in a respectable manner, not heatedly and vociferously.

Every individual, even if he does not observe the Torah and its commandments, must be treated with respect and dignity. When one person meets another over matters that do not relate directly to the Torah and its commandments - whether as a neighbor or as a study partner; whether in the army, as a reservist or a regular, or just by chance on an ordinary day - in all of these circumstances, one must remember that the trait of love calls for esteem and basic humane treatment. And it goes without saying that where matters of Torah are concerned, sevenfold caution and care are needed in order to present things in a manner which will penetrate the heart of the listener.
Some of the translated biblical verses and Talmudic sources in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

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