Divine Service

Yael Eckstein  |  July 21, 2023

Yael being kissed by an elderly woman at her 100th birthday celebration

Those who are kind benefit themselves,
     but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.
— Proverbs 11:17

These devotions explore the Jewish perspective of love. 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 enables us to love one another.

Self-care is one of today’s hottest trends, pushing us to indulge in a guilt-free spa day, a delicious meal, or a luxurious getaway. It’s easy to dismiss this as a consumerist culture that glorifies selfishness and physical pleasure, but perhaps it points to a deeper societal issue. So many people are struggling to meet the competing needs of their families, work, and communities, leaving behind a generation that is perpetually burnt-out.

Whether they believe they need to or genuinely want to, many people sacrifice themselves on the altar of giving to others. But how can we care for others if we are not caring for the most important person in our lives—ourselves? While this may sound selfish, we simply cannot fill anyone else’s cup if ours is empty.

The Jewish sages taught that a healthy body and soul are critical for serving God and giving to others. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely…” The sages understood this as a commandment to take care of ourselves.

Divine Service

The commandment to love others also sends us this crucial message: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). How can you love your neighbor if you don’t first love yourself? We can only bestow kindness on others if we have been treated with kindness.

As it says in Proverbs: “Those who are kind benefit themselves, but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.” If we neglect our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, we will be resentful and cruel to others as well. How many times have I been short with my children only to realize later that I was simply too hungry, tired, and depleted to give them the patience they deserved?

There is a beautiful story about Hillel the Elder who left his students to go fulfill a divine commandment. When the students asked which one, they were surprised to hear that he was going to the bathhouse. Hillel was teaching his students that taking care of one’s own body is nothing short of Divine service.

Maybe a spa day every so often isn’t such a bad idea after all!

Your Turn:

Take on one small daily practice of true self-care so that you have the strength you need to care for others.