Monday, March 23, 2020

You Shall Love Your Neighbor

by Rabbi Katy Allen

We are settling into an altered life. And as this happens, I have been thinking about the Jewish imperative to love your neighbor: 
'וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18)

The rabbis tell us that this commandment is a fundamental principle of Torah, meaning that many other commandments depend on it. For example, we won't steal from others if we think about loving them as ourselves. We won't hurt them or cause damage intentionally to their property, and so on.

Loving our neighbors is what we are doing now, as we stay at home, as we distance ourselves physically but not emotionally or socially from others, as we reach out to those more vulnerable than ourselves.

By telling us to love others as we love ourselves, this imperative implies that if we don't love ourselves, we can't love others. So, in order to get through this time of containment, we need to remind ourselves - and others - that it is OK and necessary to take care of ourselves. It's OK and necessary to take down time, to scream at G!d, to cry and cry and cry, to find a way to be alone. It's OK and necessary to do whatever we need to do to keep ourselves whole.

What are our tools for resiliency? Taking time to identify them, and then to reformat them for today's reality, can help us on our journey toward deeper peace. Remembering the old adage, one day at a time, can help us slow down and remember that we don't need to rush. We have time. And so it continues.

There is already grief, fear, anger, despair, and there will be more. And as Miriam Greenspan reminds us  in her book Healing Through the Dark Emotions, each of these and other dark emotions is an indicator that we care, we love, we are compassionate, we are aware, we are human. Each of our difficult emotions is saying something good and positive about who we are.

Now is a time to do our best to find a new depth of kindness, not just for others, but for ourselves. Now more than ever we need to remember that if we are going to truly love others - and care for them and support them and be kind to them - then we must also, or perhaps primarily, love ourselves.  If we are to love ourselves, then we need to take care of ourselves. And then, when we love ourselves, we will be able to give to others from a place of wholeness and strength, and from that place, our giving is sustainable.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah. 

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