All You Need Is Love
Believe it or not, there is no specific Mitzvah (Commandment) to love your parents, your spouse (although it's a good idea) and even your children. In fact, there is no specific requirement that you even like them very much.
Of course, these relationships fit under the generic requirement to "Love your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:18) but the Torah does not require more from us than that.
However, we are specifically commanded in this week's parsha to love a convert (Leviticus 19:34).
At first glance, that might sound strange. Why specifically to love a convert more than anyone else, even close family?
My Rabbi, Rav Noach Weinberg, of blessed memory, used to explain the meaning of love:
Love is the pleasure we get when we focus and identify with another and his virtues. When you see the virtues in people, you will most certainly love them.
This process is much more fulfilling and meaningful than even Hallmark could have envisioned. By loving we come to emulate. We in fact, become what we love.
The process works like this: we will change our direction to become just like the virtues we admire. It may be slow and imperceptible to us, but subtly those changes will occur.
The reason the Torah does not require us to love any specific person more than anyone else, is because those people may not have virtues greater than anyone else. As much as we would like to think of them as special, maybe our loved ones have no extra special virtues, and therefore the Torah does not go out of its way to tell us to love them more than anyone else. Of course, everyone is special, and has exceptional talents and qualities, and that is why we are commanded to love them and realize those virtues. But a convert has something more then everyone else, that the Torah specifically wants us to focus on and love.
Rabbi Weinberg once asked a phenomenal question. He pointed out that the distance (in spirituality) that someone who converts to Judaism has to travel is further than the distance between anyone of us and one of the great sages of the Talmud (called a Tanna).
In other words, it's more difficult to become a Jew, than it is for a Jew to become a Tanna.
To go from a world in which you are required to keep seven commandments (the Noachide laws), to a world that revolves around 613 commandments, is an enormous leap. To become part of the Jewish people and its destiny is an immense undertaking.
So Rabbi Weinberg asked, if people can do such things, i.e., convert, and can travel the distance to be a Jew, then why don't Jews travel the lesser distance to be a Rabbi Akiva?
This is only my view, but I believe it's because we don't love converts (at least not enough).
If we appreciated their emotional strength, if we understood their spiritual path, if we valued their arduous undertaking, and if we therefore loved them, we would become like them.
"When I spent shabbat at Rabbi Winter's house a couple of months ago, there was a person staying there who was in the process of converting (under his direction) from Catholicism to Judaism. I found the person to be so inspiring that I must say that meeting this person at least in part helped focus me to try to come closer to Hashem (G-d). If this person was willing to come so far, why couldn't I take a few steps closer?" -- Oren Penn
Believe it or not, Abraham was a convert. He was called the Hebrew. Hebrew means to cross over. Abraham crossed over from the pagan world to be a monotheist. He wasn't the first monotheist, and he wasn't the only one alive at his time. He was just the first who started as a pagan and left it to become a monotheist. No one had done that.
The message of Judaism and the recipe for great success, is found in this concept of converting.
It's easy to appreciate a person for how they appear to us now, but maybe they were born into a loving home and that's who they have always been. The real value is to appreciate the person who traveled the longest distance. Thus the secret of becoming a Rabbi Akiva - or whomever you could possibly dream of becoming, is to identify with, and emulate a convert.
To do that, all you need is love.
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BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: Who do you know that has traveled the longest spiritual distance?
Question 2: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Question 3: Think about the challenges you are facing now and try and compare it to the challenges of people in Question 1.