All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. Deuteronomy 29:10-11
The Torah reading for this week is Nitzavim, which means "standing," from Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20 and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9.
We have all encountered people who seem downright unlovable. It could be the cranky person who never has anything good to say. It could be a nasty salesclerk or a driver who cuts you off in traffic. Our gut instinct is to dislike these people; however, we know that God wants us to behave differently. In Leviticus 19:18, we are commanded to "love your neighbor as yourself," and by "your neighbor," God means everyone, and by "love," God doesn't mean tolerate.
But how are we to love the unlovable?
Echoing these instructions, Moses passed along a similar message at the start of this week's Torah portion. It begins: "All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water."
The date was the seventh day of the Hebrew month of Adar, the day on which Moses was to die. His purpose on that day was to seal the covenant between God and the children of Israel. The Jewish sages teach that by gathering all the people, from young to old, from the leaders to the water-carriers, Moses was teaching the people that before they could become deserving of God's unconditional love, they had to have unconditional love for each other. They needed to stand undivided, loving each person as they did themselves.
The sages teach that the sin that led to the destruction of the Temple, God's dwelling place on earth, was the sin of "baseless hatred." According to Jewish tradition, God said, "If you can't live with each other, I won't live with you." The antidote to the sin of baseless hatred is "baseless love." When we can embrace each other unconditionally, God will return once again.
Still, we are left with the question of how to love those who are hard to love. I have seen many suggestions and strategies. However, I think they all miss the point. Baseless hatred means that a person hates another person for no reason just because. And that's exactly how we need to implement baseless love just because! There is no reason. It may even seem unreasonable to love that person. But we love them just because.
We need to stop looking so closely at other people and judging them. We need to remember that there is more to any individual's story than we may know. We need to quit analyzing the behavior of others and just love. When we love others despite their flaws, we will feel God's love for us in spite of our own.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President