Thursday, May 17, 2007

Beware of Teddy Bears

[Loving Your Fellow Jew, discussed in the Tzemach Tzedek's Derech Mitzvosecha]

Honey, it's time to let go of the bear.

To love your fellow Jew.

Easy, right?

Sure, when the person is likable. With people who seem so perfect in our eyes - there's no challenge. They are, indeed, easy to love. Like a teddy bear.

But, oftentimes, loving another Jew seems impossible.

Why? Because we see their faults. And how can we accept - let alone love - another person when we so visibly see their faulty character and wrongdoings?

But the fact is, we were never told of a certain criteria that deems someone worthy of our love. You're a Jew? Badaboom. I'm commanded to love you.

What happens, though, when the other person is not a teddy bear? What do we do with the challenge of loving another Jew while seeing their faults? How can we rise above?

Here's how it usually goes. We notice something we don't like about someone. Let's say they are impatient. Now, at that point we usually have two choices. One, we just can just stop liking them. Who want to be around someone who is impatient? How can someone so impatient be deserving of our love? The second option is a little nicer. We say, "Well, I'm sure they have a reason for being impatient" or "It's not the end of the world to be impatient." We try to understand them,
assuming the right to erase their weaknesses, and then - voila! - they are a teddy bear in our eyes once again.

The second option seems righteous. But, really, even though it takes personal mind power to erase or excuse another person's faults, it still falls short. Take a closer look. What you're still saying is, "I can only love you if you have no faults." Only this time, by your own goodwill, you yourself erased the persons faults. You have transformed the person into a teddy bear.

This hardly sounds like the ideal way to love a Jew. And besides, with this attitude, we're still bound to come across people that, under no circumstances or efforts, can't be seen as faultless. What do we dothen?

Most people will abandon all efforts. The faults are too present, too deep.

Thankfully, the Baal ShemTov led the way to true love of a fellow Jew.

In the most realized example of the Mitzvah, he didn't find it necessary to turn every Jew into a perfect human being. He said, "I can love for you without blocking out your faults." He had no internal struggle, no need to downplay or erase the wrong within his fellow Jew. The Baal ShemTov knew that the Mitzvah to love his fellow Jew never asked him to interfere in their faults. That was not his job. He knew it was supposed to be a love without conditions, so he didn't blind himself to peoples faults but loved them in spite of them. Hence, the most defined understanding of, "loving a fellow Jew, just the same as you." Just like we have a healthy dose of self love in spite of our weaknesses, so too is our fellow Jew deserving of undiscriminating love.

When we have to consider and judge peoples' faults in order to love them, we're not doing them a favor - because we're only loving them when it's easy. We have to love ALL of our fellow Jew, and this includes his downfalls. When we find ourselves turning our fellow Jew into a stuffed animal, we must pause and ask, "Who am I loving?" In response, we should aim for a true love, a love that accepts and appreciates people even when it's not easy.

When I imagine a world where every single person internalizes this approach, I see a harmony that is bound to spin into the limitless forward motion that ushers in the final Redemption.

And it all starts with you and me. No teddy bears.


stamaperson said...

Okay, so I understand that it HAS TO BE a love without conditions, but how the heck do you convince yourself to do that? Sometimes people have faults that really are much worse than your own.

And the answer can't be that "you love them because of their neshama". The point is you have to love their faults to. What are you supposed to meditate on, or smoke, to get yourself to do that?

SHLOIME said...