“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.’” — Leviticus 19:18
The year 2018 is important for Israel and the Jewish people as we celebrate the modern State of Israel’s 70th Birthday. You can be part of this momentous milestone with Rabbi Eckstein’s 70 devotions offered now through April 19, Israel’s Independence Day. These devotions are tied to our Keys to Israel – six fundamental principles underlying God’s covenantal relationship with His chosen people and His Holy Land using the acrostic I.S.R.A.E.L.
This devotion is part of ten devotions focusing on the letter “L” for Love your neighbor — one of the greatest commandments that God gave to both Christians and Jews.
There is a story about a rabbi who wanted to teach his students about love. That particular day, the school was serving fish for lunch. The rabbi approached a group of students who were enjoying their lunch and asked, “Do you love the fish?” “I love it!” came one boy’s enthusiastic reply. “No you don’t!” boomed the rabbi’s voice. “If you really loved the fish you wouldn’t be eating it.”
In our Scripture from Leviticus chapter 19, we come across one of the most fundamental axioms of the Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This ideal was deemed so important that when the saintly Rabbi Akiva (first century) was asked to relay the entire Bible while standing on one foot, that phrase was his reply.
In the Christian Bible, Jesus quoted this verse from the Torah when asked what was the greatest commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Now, most of us are blessed with many people in our lives who make keeping this commandment very easy. But then there are those other people – you know the ones. They are the people God places in our lives who make keeping this commandment extremely challenging. How are we to love those who make loving them so difficult?
The Jewish sages let us in on a secret about love, which is actually hidden within the Hebrew word for love, ahava. At the center of the word ahava is the Hebrew word hav which means “giving.” Giving forms the very root of the word “love,” and the sages teach that it is also the root of the act of love. You see, we don’t love those most from whom we receive; we love those most to whom we give. Just look at a parent and a child. As much as a child loves a parent, a parent will always love a child more, because the parent has given more and therefore loves more.
When we give something to someone else, we are essentially giving that person a piece of ourselves. The more we give, the more we become a part of that other person. Since we naturally love ourselves (or should!), this love will eventually flow to the recipient of our giving. When we give to a neighbor, a stranger, or yes, even a difficult family member, we will see ourselves in them and that’s how we will be able to love them as ourselves.
Try it out. There may already be a challenging person in your life, or you may find a difficult stranger pop into your life, even for just a few moments. Give something to them. It doesn’t have to be much — a smile, a compliment, a small favor. As you do, you will see a change take place. The more you give, the more love you will have to give, and consequently, the more love you will receive in return.
Join the celebration and get the entire Keys to I.S.R.A.E.L. curriculum for free — for you, your small group, or even your church.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President