The Power of Love
Perhaps the most famous commandment in the Torah appears in this week's portion: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
When you think about it a bit deeper, however, the question arises: How can you command someone to love? You can command action, but surely you cannot command emotion. Every system of law demands that people act in a certain way. There is not a single one - apart from Torah - which demands that people feel a certain way.
You can be an observant Jew: only eat kosher, pray three times a day, and even wear a black hat - but if you don't feel the emotion of love when you meet another person in the street, you are missing the boat. It's not enough to simply "not hate." It's not enough even to be nice and helpful to the extreme. Ambivalence dressed up in niceties is not what is required of us. We must get ourselves to feel the emotion of love.
I once had the privilege of meeting Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was widely considered one of the greatest rabbis of this generation. When I entered the room, I immediately felt a presence. When my turn came, I stretched out my hand to shake his and looked into his eyes. I could not believe what I saw. I felt, as I feel with my own parents, that this was someone who loved me. The warmth that emanated from him was something I have rarely felt in my life. I am confident that he loved me more than do some of my closest friends.
He did not know me. He had never met me. And yet he loved me. This is what the Torah requires.
If Rabbi Auerbach had invited me for dinner every day of the week, sent me home laden with gifts, and told me I was welcome in his home whenever I wanted - but I hadn't felt that he loved me - I would not have walked away with half the feeling of exhilaration as I did. There is no greater gift than love. When people feel loved, they feel self-esteem, they feel lifted, and they feel empowered. When they feel you want to help them because you are obligated to do so, they will be grateful, at best. Loving is giving in the fullest way possible.
Which brings us back to our original question: How is it possible to command the emotion of love? I'm confident that Rabbi Auerbach did it, so it must be possible. But how? How do you get yourself to love; especially someone you really don't like? What's the secret?
For that, I suggest Rabbi Weinberg's zt"l class on love, which you can find right here.