An axiom of Jewish belief and Torah philosophy is that G-d doesn’t command us to do things we are not capable of. We are not expected to go beyond what we can handle-“Dracheha Darchei Noam”-“Its ways are ways of pleasantness”. We are also taught to understand that a Jewish and Torah life is and is intended to be pleasant, easy and peaceful, not irksome, overly challenging or impossible. But the commandment in this Parsha (Kedoshim) to “Love Your Fellow as Yourself” doesn’t square with this so easily for me. How many of us REALLY love the next person EXACTLY and AS MUCH as we love ourselves? While this idea may be laudatory and ideal, how realistic of an expectation is it of the average human relationship? Essentially, isn’t this a command that each of us live the life of a Saint? That we all become Jewish Mother Teresas?
Bringing this lofty Mitzvah down to earth, here is how I read this Mitzvah: “Love your fellow human despite his or her faults, just as you are able to love yourself despite your own obvious faults”. Most of us as healthy people have the uncanny ability to unconditionally accept ourselves regardless of the obvious defects we clearly notice in ourselves. We somehow find a way to realize and accept that along with the negative is an overwhelmingly worthy picture of someone deserving of acceptance, admiration, encouragement and care. Maybe we’re terrible at telling jokes but we can really sing well… we like ourselves pimples and all! Well…if we can do that for ourselves, realizing that as total individuals we are more than just the sum of our parts (boils and all), why can’t we view others the same way? Why do we let every single picayune pimple on someone else’s face annoy us so much but are not able to pass a mirror without checking our own selves out? (guilty)
THAT’S what Hashem wants us to do. Apply the same judgment standard to others that we grant to ourselves. Nothing more. No need to feed steak to your enemy or buy everyone on your block a new Rolex just because you got one for your birthday.
If you feel this idea too radically amends the lofty ideal of this Mitzvah, consider the Torah’s choice of verbiage. The “Fellow” we are told to love is called a “RAYA”, which read in Hebrew, spells the exact same word as “RA”, which means “Bad”. Why is the Hebrew term for “friend” made up of the exact same term for “Bad”? Well maybe because a true friend is one who will love you along with all the “RA” you come with-along with your zits, gaffes, bad jokes and mistakes in judgment. Just like we seek the best deal for our own selves regardless of our credit histories, we must be able to overlook another’s less than perfect resume and see in them the whole person that they are. “Vahavata LReacha Kamocha”-Love another even though there may be some “RA’ in her-just like we so expertly do with our selves!
This idea may be an easier sell for my Californian friends-you know what it’s like to live right on top of the most fearsome “faults” and still enjoy our gorgeous sunny surroundings. But for all of us everywhere, may this Shabbat be one where we discover not only how beautiful we are, but how much that beauty transcends whatever might make us feel less than the special, wonderful, and holy people we are. Shabbat Shalom!