“‘The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.’” — Leviticus 19:34
In honor of my father’s memory and in the spirit of carrying on his legacy and passion for helping Christians like you understand the Jewish roots of your faith, I will continue to share his inspirational teachings and message through these devotions.
-- Yael Eckstein, President
In Hebrew, the word for love is ahava, which comes from the root word, hav, “to give.” In Judaism, to love is to give. Giving to others forms the connection that enables us to love one another. Join us this month, as we offer a devotional series exploring the Jewish perspective on love.
Hillel the Elder was a great sage who lived in the Holy Land during the first century BCE. He was once challenged by a man who demanded: “Teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot!”
Now, the man had already challenged other rabbis of the time, and none of them would consider such a ridiculous request. After all, who could teach about the Five Books of Moses (the Torah), the books of the Prophets, and the Holy Writings (including Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, etc.) while someone stood on one foot!
But Hillel was different, and especially known for his patience. He was kind to the man and took up the challenge. While the man stood on one foot, Hillel taught: “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary – go study it!”
Hillel’s reply was another way of saying the Bible verse telling us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), or as we read in verse 34, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself. In other words, Hillel was teaching that loving others is essentially what the Bible is all about! (Try saying that on one foot!)
In Psalm 118:19, we read: “Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.” In the Jewish tradition, the sages teach that this verse refers to when a person enters heaven and stands before the heavenly tribunal in judgment. Each person will be asked: “What was your occupation?”
In other words, “What did you spend your life doing?” If one answers: “I fed the hungry,” the tribunal will say: “This is God’s gate. You, who fed the hungry, may enter.” If a person answers: “I gave drink to the thirsty,” the tribunal will say: “This is God’s gate. You, who gave drink to the thirsty, may enter.” And so on. The sages were teaching that all who performed acts of kindness, and those who gave charity, are permitted to enter God’s gate.
Helping others through acts of kindness has always been extremely important in Judaism. As Hillel the Elder demonstrated, it is the main lesson behind the entire Bible. God counts on us to provide for the needy and to use what He has given us for the less fortunate.
In that way, we show our regard for God as Creator of all people, share His goodness with others, and draw others to Him. At the same time, we contribute to the overall mission of all humanity. Judaism refers to this as tikkun olam, which means, “fixing the world,” making it a place of goodness and godliness. That is our purpose and our privilege.
We find this same teaching in the book of John in what Christians call the New Testament, when Jesus taught his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
The hallmark of both the Jewish and Christian faiths is love — for God, for family and friends, for our neighbors, for one another, and for the world.