Chabad at Stanford
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It's all About Love Bookmark and Share
It's all About Love
By: M.D. Abraham Twerski

The Talmud records that the Jewish people went into exile 2,000 years ago because they lacked love one for another. The road of return, therefore, is paved with gentle caring and compassion for each other.

One of the outstanding mitzvot is "Love of others," love for another person. The Baal Shem Tov said that inasmuch as God is abstract and in tangible, it may be difficult to develop love for Him. The royal road love to God, said the Baal Shem Tov, is Love of others. Many righteous people excelled in love of others. Perhaps most prominent in Chassidic folklore is Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was constantly interceding with God on behalf of His people.

For example, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak once encountered a man who was eating on Tisha B'Av. "My child," he said, "you must have forgotten that day is Tisha B'Av."

"No, I know it is Tisha B'Av," the man replied.

"Ah, then you have been instructed by your doctor that you may not fast because of poor health."

"I am perfectly healthy," the man said.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his eyes toward heaven. "Master of the universe," he said. "I have given this man two opportunities to exonerate himself for eating on Tisha B'Av, but he is so dedicated to truth that he rejected my offer, even at the risk of incriminating himself..."

It takes little effort to have love for a righteous person. The trick is to be able to love those who appear to be undeserving of love. One of the Chassidic masters said, "I wish I could have the love for the greatest righteous person that God has for the worst evil person..."

For example, the Jerusalem Talmud states that a person should not seek revenge against someone who had harmed or offended him, anymore than if one had injured his left hand, he would hit it with his right hand as punishment for having caused him pain. If one truly feels identified with others "as yourself," one would not take revenge against another -- just as one would not take revenge against oneself...

The soul is part of God Himself, and God is absolute unity. Therefore, all souls are essentially one. We are separate and distinct beings by virtue of our physical bodies. To the extent that we emphasize our physical component, the body, to that extent we are separate and distinct from one another. To the extent that we minimize the importance of the body relative to the soul, and give the soul primacy, to that extent we are one, and can feel for another the way we feel for ourselves.

People who excel in love of others had this kind of self-mastery, having achieved a state of spirituality where the body became subordinate to the soul, and they turned over their soul to be one with the souls of others.

The Patriarch Abraham referred to himself as being "only dust and ash" (Genesis 18:27). Ibn Ezra states that this refers to the fact that God said to Adam, "For you are dust and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19). Abraham's comment was in the context of his pleading to God to spare the sinful city of Sodom.

The Patriarch's intense intervention on behalf of the corrupt city was due to the fact that he had achieved so great an effacement of the body that he was capable of extraordinary empathy, even to the degree of pleading for mercy for the most sinful. Abraham, his physical body was nothing but a handful of dust, and did not stand in the way of the expression of the needs of his soul.

There are hundreds of accounts of how people practice kindness to others. Even extraordinary self-effacement was not felt to be a sacrifice. After all, they were not really doing anything for strangers. Rather, having totally identified themselves with others, they felt that they were doing for themselves. It can hardly be considered a sacrifice if one does something for oneself.

The "Tzaddik of Stitchin" would welcome wayfarers into his home and provide them with a place to sleep, even if they were dressed in tattered clothes and covered with the dust of the road. When it was pointed out to him that they might be carrying insects that would infest his bedclothes, the tzaddik said, "The Talmud states that the dead body actually feels the pain of being worm eaten. At that time I will not be able to do anything to the insects that will be irritating me. Is it not better that I take the risk of being bitten by insects in this world, where I can at least brush the insects away, and hope that by merit of the mitzvah of hosting guests, I will be spared the misery after death?"

...Every thinking person searches for meaning in life, and it should be obvious that there can be meaning for an individual only if there is meaning to the world as a whole. People who do not believe in Creation and who assume that the universe is the result of accidental happenings in primeval matter and energy (which came from where?) cannot achieve a true sense of meaning. It is absurd to speak of purpose of life in a world that is purposeless.

The Scripture says that the world was created with and for kindness to others (Psalms 89:3). With kindness as the purpose for the very existence of the world, pursuit of kindness can become the purpose of an individual's life...

The Torah states that we are required to attach ourselves to God. But how can a mere mortal attach himself to the Infinite? By emulating God's traits, says the Talmud. "Just as God is merciful, so must you be merciful."

Anytime one does an act of kindness, one is uniting himself with God...

Source: A selection from "DEARER THAN LIFE -Making your life more meaningful"

Rabbi Twerski is the founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, who applies Chassidic philosophy to his psychiatric practice.