Most people don't have any trouble being concerned about their own wants and needs. When we're hungry, we eat. When we're tired, we rest. But when it comes to the wants and needs of other people, the feeling may not come so easily.
In our Torah portion this week, God tells us to "Love your neighbor like yourself." This means that we should try to become so loving and sensitive to the people around us that we care just as deeply, and as naturally about fulfilling their needs as we do toward our own. When we do, we will find ourselves able to give of ourselves more and more in order to help them. The Torah is informing us that deep down we are really all connected. Living with this awareness brings a lot of love into the world - and into our lives.
In our story, a girl learns a lesson in loving, and giving.
"THE LOVE SWEATER"
Cheryl White was one of those kids who just knew how to look good. She had a natural sense of style and was always able to pull together just the right outfit for any occasion. So when her friend Rachel called her up to compliment her on the sweater she had worn to the last school assembly, Cheryl wasn't too surprised. But when her friend also asked if she could borrow the sweater to wear to an important family gathering that weekend, Cheryl was at a loss.
"Um...ah, I'm not sure. Let me get back to you, okay?" was all she could manage to blurt out, before making a hasty excuse to get off the phone.
The sweater Rachel wanted to borrow was one of Cheryl's favorites. Deep pink, with a gorgeous trim of embroidered roses. She received the sweater as a gift from her Aunt Susan last spring. It was hard for Cheryl to imagine parting with the sweater, even for one day. Not that she was worried that Rachel would ruin it or anything. She knew her friend was careful and responsible. And it would, Cheryl admitted to herself, look great on Rachel who was just about her size and coloring. Just the very idea of sharing something so special was hard for the girl to warm up to.
She went upstairs to her room to get going on her homework, but found it hard to concentrate as she considered her dilemma. Cheryl closed her geometry book, put her pencil down, and walked over to her closet. Going through the line of neatly hung-up sweaters, she sighed. "If only Rachel wanted to borrow one of these plain old sweaters it would be no problem..." she thought.
Then she took down the pink sweater and ran her fingers over it. "What is this?" Cheryl asked herself, as she noticed for the first time what felt like a piece of paper in one of the small, inner pockets. Curiously, she pulled out a small, folded note written on a piece of pretty stationary, and read:
"To my dearest niece, I had bought this sweater for myself, but then when I realized how beautiful it would look on you, I just had to give it to you as a gift. As much as I love the sweater, I love you more!
Love, Aunt Susan."
Cheryl stood there dazed. Both about the fact that even though she had worn the sweater several times she had never found the note, and even more so because it seemed to give her just the message she needed right now. "I got this sweater as a gift of love from someone who put my needs before her own. My Aunt really thought of me. Rachel must really need a nice sweater to wear with her relatives, or she wouldn't have asked. While I don't think that I could give it away like Aunt Susan did, at least I can consider Rachel's needs and let her borrow it for a couple days."
Cheryl felt relieved and determined as she dialed up her friend.
"Really? ... I can? Oh wow, thanks so much!" Rachel gushed, as Cheryl gave her the good news that she could borrow the sweater. Cheryl sat down to her homework with a clear head, and a warm feeling inside that she had considered her friend's needs and done something really loving that day.
Q. How did Cheryl feel when her friend first asked to borrow her favorite sweater?
A. She felt like she didn't really want to share it.
Q. How did she feel after she read her Aunt's note?
A. She realized that sharing and helping her friend was a way of being loving. She decided to lend her sweater, and felt glad that she did.
Q. Why do you think that developing an attitude of 'loving others as ourselves' can make it easier to give of what we have?
A. When it comes to ourselves, we have a built-in ability to be aware of and try to fulfill our own wants and needs. It is a natural feeling of 'self-love'. When we come to identify more with others, and make 'their needs our needs,' it becomes easier to help them out with whatever it takes.
Q. What are some practical ways that we can love other people as ourselves?
A. It helps to try to 'put ourselves in their head' and anticipate their needs, and then act upon them. For instance, if someone comes to visit us from far away, we can imagine that the trip might have been long and tedious, and they might really appreciate something to eat or a chance to rest. Offer it to them. Or on a rainy day, if our friend didn't remember to bring an umbrella to school, imagine how much more comfortable they would feel out of the rain, and offer to share yours.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. How would you define love? Do you think that it is primarily an emotion or an action?
A. While there can often be a warm, emotional feeling attached to love, that is not its essence. Simply put, loving is giving. When we take an active concern toward the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of others, we are acting loving. Sometimes love is expressed through a giving deed. Sometimes a kind word or even thinking well of others is an act of love. Love, by this definition leads us to become less selfish and more other-oriented, which is the essence of spirituality.
Q. Judaism teaches that God's love is the ultimate love. Why do you think this is so?
A. God created and is in control of everything. Everything belongs to Him and He doesn't need anything. Since everything is already His, He never 'takes' anything. He only, always gives. Our very existence is His loving gift to us. Since giving is loving, God, who only gives and never takes, is the ultimate love-giver.