Imagine living on a deserted island having never seen another human being before. When you meet one for the first time, you're amazed at how he walks, talks and thinks. You know he's a gorgeous, incredible reflection of God.
How ironic if you meet that same person in your hometown, you'd probably be indifferent.
Our mistake is that we take people for granted. There are so many of them, we get bored.
Way #32 is Ohev et habriyot – literally "love creation." More specifically, this instructs us to love human beings – the pinnacle of creation. Not that we should ignore everything else. On the contrary – if we love people, then love of animals, trees and the rest of creation will naturally flow from there.
It's not good enough to love God and your family. You have to also love humanity as a whole. This may seem unfathomable, but it is the Jewish ideal. Hatred and strife are aberrations; peace among mankind is the way it's supposed to be. As God told Moses: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Appreciate the beauty of the human ability to communicate, to accomplish, to create. This is intrinsic to every human being – truly fantastic gadgets!
Make a List of Virtues
What exactly does it mean to "love" others?
The definition of love is "the pleasure of identifying people with their virtues."
To focus on seeing the beauty of every human being, try making a list of virtues. The more potential virtues you're aware of, the more you'll appreciate others.
Start with the obvious virtues, and then work your way toward more difficult ones. A good way is to look at people you enjoy, who give you pleasure, and analyze why that's so. Ask other people for ideas, too. You'll end up with a comprehensive list for loving all kinds of people!
Finally, be a connoisseur. Distinguish between one virtue and another. Prioritize your list, identifying which virtues are more important than others.
Here are some suggested virtues to get you started, adapted from "Begin Again Now" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin:
Accepting / Accomplished / Adventurous / Agreeable / Altruistic / Ambitious / Appreciative / Articulate / Assertive / Attentive / Balanced / Brave / Calm / Caring / Cautious / Charismatic / Charitable / Cheerful / Compassionate / Confident / Conscientious / Consistent / Cooperative / Creative / Decisive / Dignified / Diplomatic / Easygoing / Efficient / Energetic / Enthusiastic / Expressive / Fair / Flexible / Forgiving / Friendly / Generous / Gentle / Handy / Hardworking / Healthy / Honest / Humble / Idealistic / Insightful / Knowledgeable / Logical / Loving / Loyal / Mature / Methodical / Moral / Neat / Open / Optimistic / Organized / Original / Patient / Persistent / Polite / Practical / Productive / Punctual / Realistic / Relaxed / Reliable / Scholarly / Self-assured / Sincere / Skillful / Spiritual / Sweet / Talented / Thrifty / Tolerant / Versatile / Warm / Wise
The Love List
Right now, make a list of the people you love.
How many names did you come up with? Two? (below average) Ten? (average) Twenty? (above average)
When you think about all the pleasure that love brings, isn't it a shame that our list doesn't include the thousands of people we've met in our lifetime!
We need to look for the good in all human beings. And until we learn how, we will only love a very tiny percentage of people. Realize how much longer your list could be if you began to consciously focus on people's virtues – and not their faults. At every opportunity, focus on the virtues of your neighbors, relatives, boss, employees, customers, etc.
Focusing on faults is the number one mistake people make in their relationships. If you dislike someone, the only explanation is that you're focused on the wrong thing. Try listing some people you don't like – and see how many virtues they really have. You can't hate virtues, and you can't love faults. You can only choose which to identify a person with.
Universal Human Virtue
At the very least, every human being possesses at least one common virtue: a divine soul, created in the image of God.
It's all a matter of focus. Parents love their children despite their faults. Despite the fact that they make in their diapers. Despite the fact that they hit each other. Despite the fact that they're selfish. So what do you love about them? They're intelligent... full of potential... alive with vitality...
To love humanity, be sensitive to virtues that are common to all people. Every human being wants to be good and will die for it. Imagine a gluttonous boor. If you tell him, "Kill these 1,000 children or we'll kill you," he'll say, "Kill me." That's the essence of a human.
No matter how low a person has sunk, no matter how obnoxious he may be, there is still an enormous virtue of "potential." Every human being is an intellectual creature, with free will, and a deep desire to be like God.
It is this divine spark which distinguishes us from animals, and endows us with the ultimate potential – free will. (That's no small virtue!)
To Love Or Be Loved
Which pleasure do you think is greater: to give love or to be loved?
Giving love is the greater pleasure. Because when you perceive someone's deep virtues – his honesty, compassion or intelligence – you are able to share in that beauty.
At the root of our struggle to love is a conflict between body and soul. The soul wants to love others, because giving love is one of the deepest pleasures the soul can experience. The soul wants to reach beyond itself and connect with every other soul.
On a deeper level, love of people is a way to access love of God. Because in the spiritual dimension, there are no conventional boundaries between entities. It's all one unit.
The body, on the other hand, would rather be the recipient of love. It's less demanding, more comfortable.
Check yourself: If you're seeking attention, it means the body's in charge.
Try to consciously connect with the soul's drive to love others. The beginning is difficult and you have to work to get the body to go along. But after you accustom yourself to seeing virtue in others, you'll find it easier to love all kinds of people!
The Universal Unit
If you're slicing a carrot and accidentally cut your finger, do you take the knife and cut your other hand in revenge? Of course not. Why? Because your other hand is part of you, too.
So too, humanity is one body. The incense in the Holy Temple was a blend of fragrant spices – except for one, which had a pungent, unpleasant aroma. If the incense was prepared without all its ingredients, including the malodorous one, it was unusable. So too, each Jew is integral to the whole and no one is expendable.
When we appreciate that we are one people, then hurting the other guy – "paying him back" – is as ridiculous as hurting yourself. That's why the Torah says to love your neighbor "as yourself." Hurting another person is as silly as cutting your other hand with the knife.
Of course, the reality is that our bodies are separate units. When one person is eating, the other is not being nourished. And if the other guy is wealthy, it may make it harder for me to become wealthy, too. That's the difference between spirituality and physicality. So if you focus on the "body" aspect of others, that's inherently divisive.
Try focusing instead on the other person's soul. Because when one person is learning, the other is growing. It's like on the soccer field – if one guy scores a goal, we're all winning, because we're all one. You are not going to lose because he's a wiser person; rather, it makes it easier for you to become wiser. Your knowledge helps me. You can teach me.
All the souls are one. It's like two guys on a boat, and one of them is drilling a hole in the bottom. "What are you doing?!" his friend shouts. "Oh, don't worry," replies the first one, "I'm only drilling under my OWN seat."
The hole in the ozone layer does not discriminate. Drugs and theft and violence have no boundaries. The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam means that each of us is responsible to repair the world, to the best of our ability.
Love Starts at Home
Don't believe anyone who says he "loves humanity," yet has a miserable relationship with his family. If a person can't see virtues in his own brother, than how will he find them in others?
In order to attain love of humanity, a person has to start with his own family. The healthy progression is to move from love of parents, to siblings, to spouse, and then to our children. From there the goal is to love others as much as a parent wants to love a child – nothing stands in the way.
Marriage is a good training ground. It teaches you how to identify with another as yourself.
There is one love, however, which must precede everything. The Torah says to love your neighbor "as yourself." This means it's not realistic to love your neighbor, unless you love yourself first. If you feel unhappy about yourself, you cannot love others. For the love to be real, it has to flow from yourself outward.
One simple technique is to focus on your virtues. Every day, pat yourself on the back for the good traits you have. Are you a caring friend? A hard worker? Ambitious? Sincere? Take pleasure in your strengths.
Check Your Meter
Imagine an acquaintance, and one day you discover he's your long-lost brother. You'll immediately want to find out everything about him!
What happened? Isn't he the same person you knew yesterday? Nothing about his personality and virtues changed overnight. So why all of a sudden are you so interested?
Because now you feel a greater motivation to love him.
Take a reading: How do you instinctively react when a stranger walks into a room? Do you feel a surge of warmth, or is your first response to hold back? Are you anxious to discover what he's all about, or do you feel distant?
When you talk to others as strangers, that's what they'll remain. But if you get into the habit of addressing people as a friend or brother (without sounding patronizing), then you will find it much easier to love them.
Think of three things you would do if you found out your neighbor was really your long-lost brother. Then play it out. You'll see that people will respond quite positively to being the object of your love!
The Talmud tells of how the sage Hillel was being constantly being harassed by a particular person. Hillel responded: "My son, how can I help you?" Hillel said "my son" in order to arouse an emotional connection, as if this person could be his son.
Start treating everyone with more care and respect. Anytime you encounter a difficult person, try thinking, "If this was my son, how would I deal with him?"
A Story of Brotherly Love
Once there were two brothers who inherited a farm. They worked the farm together for years in brotherly love. After a time, one of them found a wife, so the brothers divided up the farm. The married one built a new house and lived with his wife, while the single brother lived by himself in the old building. The brothers continued to work their farms and made a good living.
The married brother eventually had a large family of 10 children. And the other brother was still alone.
One day, the fellow who was alone thought to himself: "I've got this whole farm and all this money, but I only have myself to take care of. My brother has 12 mouths to feed." So in the middle of the night, he took some bundles of wheat, climbed over the hill that separated the two farms – and put the wheat into his brother's silo.
One night the married brother was thinking to himself: "You know, I've got a beautiful wife and children. My world is rich. But my brother is all alone. All he has is his wheat." So, in the middle of the night, he took a bundle of wheat, climbed the hill, and secretly placed it in his brother's silo.
Back and forth each of the brothers went. Every night, each would secretly climb the hill and put wheat into the other's silo.
One night, the two brothers met at the top of the hill. And immediately they understood what had been happening. They fell into each other's arms and hugged.
It is on this site that the Almighty chose to build the Holy Temple. Because when one human being loves another, the Almighty joins them. Because that's what life is all about.
Putting It All Into Practice
The Sefer HaChinuch says: "The external awakens the internal." This means that even if you find it difficult to love others, you can still do actions that demonstrate love – with the understanding that this will ultimately affect your insides.
Here is a short list of ideas to help awaken love of others:
- When someone is in pain, show compassion.
- Make an effort to spare someone financial loss.
- Visit someone who is sick, and help care for his needs.
- Don't embarrass anyone – especially in public.
- Don't gossip about others.
- Don't take revenge or bear a grudge.
- Smile – your happiness affects others.
- Show respect to the elderly.
- Find a poor person in your community that you undertake to assist.
Why is "Loving Humanity" a Way to Wisdom?
- In order to realize your own potential, you have to love humanity. Their success is your success, too.
- The more you have love in your life, the more happy and efficient you'll be.
- If you don't appreciate the phenomenon of human beings, you're missing out on one of life's greatest pleasures.
- Loving others connects you to the world, to all facets of creation.
- Love helps you get out of the confines of "me" and into the expansive "we."
- Prioritize your love. Appreciate the relative value of each virtue.
- Realize that all human beings are God's children.