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Heart to Heart

“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.” — Leviticus 19:17

The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, from Leviticus 16:1—20:27. Acharei Mot means “after the death,” and Kedoshim means “holy.” The Haftorah is from Amos 9:7–15.

I once heard a rabbi give a young couple some advice as they began their married life together. He said: “When you are upset with each other, make sure that you talk things out. Sometimes you will be tempted to shove your feelings away and pretend that nothing happened. But every time you do that, it is as if you place a brick between you. One or two bricks aren’t a big deal, but if you keep doing that, you end up building a wall.”

I have often thought how that advice applies to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues as well. We may think that we are helping our relationships by ignoring hurt feelings, but sometimes we end up harming not only our relationships, but also ourselves.

Scripture warns us: “Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart . . .” The Sages ask the obvious question: Why does the verse need to specify “in your heart?” Where else would we hate a person?

The Jewish sages explain that there are two ways to hate someone. One is by expressing our feelings externally with words or actions. The other is by keeping our feelings on the inside, in our hearts. This verse is talking specifically about the second type of hating – the kind that seems innocuous at first, but can ultimately be the poison that kills a relationship in the end.

Yet, don’t make the mistake thinking that the Bible is advocating verbal or physical abuse either. God is not in favor of expressing our feelings in destructive and hateful ways. Rather, the very next verse advises us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). When we express our feelings of hurt, we must do so by coming from a place of love. This means waiting for the right time to discuss our feelings – never when we are feeling emotional or out of control, but only once we have regained our composure and come back to a place of love.

These instructions are invaluable when it comes to having healthy and fulfilling relationships that enrich our lives. Whether we are dealing with a spouse or a co-worker, it’s how we deal with our disagreements that will determine the quality of our relationships. So let’s take God’s advice to heart! Let’s fill our hearts with love and empty them of hate, so that within us will be a place suitable for the spirit of the Lord. As it says in Exodus 25:8. “I will dwell among them.” The sages teach: Fill your heart with love and God will dwell there, too.

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