Jewish World Review
April 29, 2005
/ 20 Nissan, 5765
Can you really love your neighbor as your self?
Rabbi David Aaron
After reading this essay, you'll never look at yourself or others the same way again. Guaranteed
Kirk Douglas once told me that when people compliment him on a performance, they often tell him how great he was at losing himself in the part. "You just became Vincent Van Gogh! You were so wonderful." And he answers, "No, you lost yourself in the part. I can't afford to lose myself in the part. I have to pay attention to the director, to the cues. I have to hit the mark just right so the action is in the camera frame. I must stay aware that I am an actor acting a part."
So a good actor plays his part, but he doesn't get lost in his part. He can't even begin to think he is the character he is playing. On the other hand, it is not like he doesn't embrace that character with a tremendous amount of love and give everything he's got to play that character to the best of his ability. But he doesn't get lost in the part and start to think he is in fact Van Gogh, or Napoleon, or the President of the United States, or a serial killer or whatever.
Similarly, you the soul are playing a character. You must always be aware of that.
We are each playing a character, and it is important that we not confuse the "self" with the character.
Another way of putting this is to compare your character to a garment. So you see a man in a white uniform running down the street holding a net. Well, you might guess he works for an insane asylum. The garment indicates the role he is playing but not who he is. He might then go home and then put on some sweatpants, and go out running again, but now he is an athlete.
Your garment is never your essence. The clothes you wear are not you, they are on you. Similarly, your character is not your "self." So you must never confuse the two. You must know the difference.
You do not have a soul. You are a soul. But you have a character. And youthe self are a soul, a spark of G-dthe Source of all selfthe Great Self.
ME AND YOU
When you are trapped in your ego, you end up doing a lot of harm in many ways. Just as you identify yourself with your career, or your emotions, or your opinions, so you identify others with just their egos and personas and you never connect with them as souls.
The Torah teaches "Love your neighbor as yourself," but if you cannot love your "self," you cannot love the "self" in someone else.
So you say, "How's it even possible for me to love my neighbor? I don't even like him. In fact, I hate him. I can't stand his dumb ideas, he talks too much, he acts like a monkey, he looks like one, and to be frank, what I hate the most about him is his stupid tiny red hat. Love him? No way. At best, maybe I can force a smile when he comes around."
When the Torah says love your neighbor as yourself, it doesn't mean that you have to love your neighbor's ideas, nor opinions, nor actions, and certainly not his clothing.
Love your neighbor as yourself means you can hate his ideas, be annoyed by his talk and his walk, but still love that person.
We are commanded to love each other, and we can love each other, because we are not the characters we play. Each one of us is a soul, a spark of the Great "I."
I am commanded to love your "self" in the same way as I love my "self," because we are both sparks within the one Great Self G-d. Notice how that sentence in the Torah ends: "Love your neighbor as yourself, [for] 'I' am G-d."
I need to get beyond my ego, and I need to see beyond your ego. Then I can love you, and help you get beyond your ego too. Then, we can work together to fix and improve the characters we are each playing, and thereby let the light of G-d the Great self shine through us.
I once met a fellow I'd like to call him Sparky who cynically denied a spiritual dynamic between people. "It's a bunch of baloney. I don't buy this soul stuff, this spiritual junk."
I asked him "Is there any one that you love?"
He said, "Yeah sure, I love my wife."
"Well, what then is love?"
He flatly said, "Neuro-electrical impulses."
Good old Sparky, a real romantic.
Unlike Sparky most people believe in a soul connection. However when they start looking for love, they often confuse the persona with the soul, and get trapped in a kind of shopping mode looking for what a person has rather than who a person is.
Not too long ago, I did a singles workshop in Manhattan. The place was packed. I asked the participants to write a list of what they were looking for in a future partner.
I then asked for volunteers to share their list with the crowd. People anxiously put up their hands hoping that by the end of their reading some other lonely soul would call out, "Yoo-hoo, here I am."
So my first volunteer got up, and he nervously read: "I am looking for someone who is warm, soft, calm ... " At that point someone rudely called out: "Get the guy a cat." The crowd burst into laughter. Not exactly a love-your-neighbor-as-yourself scene. After that all the volunteers' hands quickly went down.
I then cautioned the group that lists like these can be misleading because they are only describing a persona, and not a soul. The question is are you looking for a persona partner or a soul mate? Lists can sometimes get in the way of meeting your soul mate.
There is a wonderful old children's story that illustrates how we all yearn to be loved for our true selves.
Once upon a time, there lived a very good but very poor couple, who had a son. When the boy was born a relative sent some expensive and elegant cloth as a birthday present. The mother stored it away and said, "When my son will be a man I will send him into this world with a beautiful robe made of this material."
One day, when the boy grew up, a rich merchant invited all the town's people to a feast. The son came in his usual tattered clothing, and no one made room for him at the table. Broken-hearted at the rejection, he went home.
To console him, his mother gave him a beautiful robe made from the elegant cloth she had stored away all these years. The boy returned to the feast dressed in his new finery.
The rich man saw him, rushed over and bowed, and asked him to sit beside him. The boy took off his elegant robe, holding it by the food and said, "Eat robe, eat as much as you want."
"Why are you talking to your coat?" asked the rich man.
"Because when I was here before, in poor clothing, no one paid any attention to me. But now I come in fancy robe and you treat me royally. It is clearly not me you invited to eat beside you, but my robe."
The lesson is clear: If you love me for my robe, you rob me of my self.
But if you love me for myself, you give me a treasure beyond price.
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron