Before Tisha B’av (this year from Monday evening, July 31 through Tuesday night, August 1), when we commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples, it is the perfect time to talk about love.
We are told that the reason for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was because of “sinat chinam,” literally “free hatred” of one Jew toward another. The antidote to this unwarranted hatred, explain our Sages, is “ahavat chinam-free love.”
Ahavat chinam is so important that even if it doesn’t come “freely,” even if one has to work at it, we are required to extend ourselves and toil away until we are successful.
Rabbi Gamliel (the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince) taught, “It is good to combine the study of Torah with an occupation, for the effort required by them both keeps sin out of mind; while all Torah study that is not combined with work will ultimately cease and will lead to sin.”
The obvious meaning of the term “work” is actual labor. However, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev quoted the Baal Shem Tov as explaining that in this context, “work” refers to ahavat Yisrael (“love of a fellow Jew”) – our efforts to establish bonds of love with other Jews.
According to this interpretation, in order for Torah study to be perpetuated, it must be coupled with love toward our brethren.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who was known as the consummate “lover of Israel,” explained that it was this teaching that brought about a fundamental change in his life, motivating him to dedicate himself to the welfare of his fellow Jews.
Ahavat Yisrael is referred to here as “work” to teach us that we must work at extending ourselves in this area to include even those whom we have no inclination to love. And we must use every means possible to reach out to them.
It’s easy to act lovingly toward our fellow Jew. It can be as simple as (but certainly not limited to) greeting a person properly. Said the Sage Shammai, “Receive every person with a cheerful countenance.” “Every person” means just that, everyone, even someone we might not otherwise want to greet pleasantly!
Stated slightly differently, Rabbi Yishmael, a high priest, taught, “Receive every person cheerfully.” Despite his high office and standing, he was prepared to show respect and warmth to “every person.”
Finally, Rabbi Matya (son of Charash) said, “Be the first to extend greetings to anyone you meet.” Again, the common thread of being pleasant to “anyone” or “everyone” runs through Rabbi Matya’s teaching.
But it’s not enough for us to just “study” about loving our fellow Jew. Let’s stop talking and start rebuilding the Holy Temple now, by reaching out to someone else with true love and respect uppermost in our minds.
Rabbi Nir Gurevitch
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