Love Choice or Phenomenon?
By Rabbi Yitchok Aryeh Strimber
In this week’s Torah reading we are commanded to love our fellow Jew (19:18). The obvious question is, how could we be commanded to love someone? Isn’t love an emotion that either exists within us or is absent? Seemingly, love does not involve any affirmative action on our part, for which we could have had the choice to carry it out or to refrain from doing so.
Rabbi Noach Weinberg reveals to us a new way to define love (based on the Rambam, laws of Foundations of the Torah, 2:1). Love is the pleasure we take in someone’s virtues. When we see virtues in someone and feel delighted in them, we then experience the emotion of love. And so, although we may not have a choice to arouse within ourselves the actual feeling of love directly, we nevertheless have the control to implant within us the ingredients which will bring on the love. By taking note of and focusing on a person’s qualities, the feelings of love will naturally come forward within us, on their own.
Reena (names have been changed) had just begun a new job as a preschool teacher in a brand new special education preschool. She was eager to meet the challenge of working with children with many difficult behaviors, and her supervisors had high expectations for progress. There were many therapists that came to work with the children in her classroom, and Reena enjoyed working as a team to help the children. One day, Leah, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, came to supervise some therapists that worked with the children. She was impeccably dressed, perfectly poised and intimidating to Reena. There was a particularly challenging moment, in which the children were spilling water all over the snack table, and Reena tackled the problem enthusiastically. Afterward, Leah called Reena aside to explain to her why, in her opinion, Reena’s approach to this problem was incorrect. Although the critique was given in a gentle manner, Reena was quite resentful that this woman, who was not even her own supervisor, was stepping in. She also disagreed with Leah’s feedback and got the impression that the two of them had a very different approach to thinking about children and their behavior. She went home that day dismayed that Leah was involved in the program and hoped that going forward, their contact would be very minimal. Subsequently, as Reena got to know Leah better, she learned to respect Leah’s passion for helping children, and realized that Leah’s educational philosophy was not that far from her own. Reena also recognized that Leah was very validating and kind. Reena realized that Leah was not the critical character that she seemed to be at the first impression. This realization was highlighted to Reena when Leah praised her classroom management skills at a meeting. As Leah continued working in Reena’s classroom, Reena learned to turn to her for advice when faced with difficult situations. Leah had turned into an ally that Reena could rely on for help on an ongoing basis and found her approachable and knowledgeable. Now they are good friends and are taking a course together to further their knowledge on how to best help the children they both love.
When we encounter someone who is different than us, especially someone who we are intimidated by, we often find it hard to connect to them, and we might not naturally feel affectionate towards that person. Loving every Jew is an obligation upon all, not an exclusive trait reserved for saintly individuals. Even if someone has committed a wrong that upsets us, as long as that person is still in general in good standing, we must extend our love to him or her. If we pay close attention, we can always find some positive qualities to admire in our fellow man. As challenging is it may be, we must get into the practice of looking for the fine points of every person and to focus on those which we find within them. By doing so, we will inevitably find ourselves constantly fulfilling this special Mitzvah (commandment) of loving our fellow Jews.