There’s a word that turns up quite a bit in Jewish services - chesed - that is translated in our siddur as “lovingkindness.” It’s not generally considered very remarkable, but every single time I see it, it makes me pause for a moment.
Lovingkindness. One word. One concept. That’s… a powerful thought: it says, at once, that all kindness is rooted in love, and that love cannot possibly be unkind. That which is not loving will not be kind; that which is unkind is not loving.
If it is not kind, it is not love.
As an abuse survivor, I find myself thinking about this a lot.
They set out to raise $20,000, a sum they had reportedly exceeded hours after launching their Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery initiative.
Should they raise more than the cemetery requires for repairs, Sarsour and El-Messidi will earmark the leftovers for any future damage done to “vandalized Jewish centers,” according to their crowdfunding page. Read more (2/22/17 6:38 AM)
When He made the world, He made two ways to repair each thing: With harshness or with compassion. With a slap or with a caress. With darkness or with light.
“And G‑d looked at the light and saw that it was good.” Darkness and harsh words may be necessary. But He never called them good.
Even if you could correct another person with harsh words, the One Above receives no pleasure from it. When He sees his creatures heal one another with caring and with kindness, that is when He shines His smile upon us.
cited from Kedushas Levi on Shabbos Vayechi, 5751
“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)
Judging by the title of this post, you may think this is an average post of mine admonishing all of you wonderful people to be upright in your ways and to be kind to others.
That is, as always, the general message, but this post will deviate from what I normally post. The last rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, interpreted the famous verse of “Love your neighbor as yourself” in an interesting way. The rebbe interpreted it to mean “Love yourself as you love your neighbor.” If we don’t love ourselves for who we are, then how can we possibly project that love to others? We aren’t able to.
Love yourself! You are a wonderful person, made in the Tzelem Elokim, the image of G-d, and you have lots to be loved for. You need to accept yourself for who you are and to stop pretending to be someone who you aren’t. Now, that does NOT mean that you can remain stagnant in your self improvement, because that is an area that can always be looked at and modified for the better. But if you were born into a certain family or look a certain way, you shouldn’t try to change that! You need to realize just how awesome, in every describable term, you are! Once you begin to truly accept yourself for who you are, then can you love others in the very same way.
Don’t feel like you are able to love yourself as a result of bad habits, attributes, or actions? G-d loves you more than anybody could ever imagine. His love for you, regardless of who you are, knows no bounds no matter what you have done. If G-d can love you with an infinite love, can’t you love yourself with just a fraction of that?
So, my friends, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but don’t get caught up in trying to love someone else when you can’t even love the incredible person that you are (and that you know you are)!
These are tips that I personally have implemented into my daily life and have found that their benefits affect myself and those around me greatly.
1. Having a conversation? Don’t wait for them to stop talking so that you can talk instead. Genuinely listen to them speak and give them the respect that they deserve. At the very least, don’t interrupt them (especially not in the middle of a sentence), and try to act interested.
2. The previous rebbe of the Chabad movement once wrote in a letter to someone who was having difficulties trying to control his impolite speech: “When you wake in the morning, go through the motions of putting a muzzle over your mouth. Whenever you feel the need to speak, think, ‘Is this worth taking the muzzle off?’” This way, we are always of anything that we say. So, very simply, always think before speaking to anybody. You never know what may be offensive and truly hurtful. If there’s a doubt, don’t say it.
3. In your workplace, home, and room, always make sure to have a charity box set up somewhere. It can be made of anything; tin cans, cardboard boxes, old fruit husks, the ideas are endless. Make it a habit to always put a few coins or dollars in whenever you see it. Encourage others to do the same. Also, designate a special compartment in your wallet or a special pants pocket for charity money, so that you can also be a “mobile” charity box.
4. Before you think about talking to your friends and hanging out with them specifically, think about any other people you may know who aren’t as fortunate as another person with many friends. Unless they clearly want to be alone, sit with them, talk with them, hang out with them, make them feel special. Assuming you have lots of friends as well, they will start to follow your example, and you can become a leader in ensuring that nobody is alone.
Okay, but like the first (and even like the second, third, you can go on) listen to “Marvin Hits Trina,” you’re so up in arms with a deep satisfaction that Whizzer and Trina are finally calling Marvin on his bullshit (We had fights and games / Marvin called us funny names / Marvin always played the clown) and then shock and anger at Marvin for freaking out and hitting Trina. And I’m not trying to justify Marvin’s freak out - it was completely inappropriate. But like, the “I am so dumb” declaration is one of the most important lines of the entire show - especially for Marvin’s development as a character.
He isn’t /just/ freaking out because of the dissipation of a future that he naively envisioned (a tight-knit family, an ex-wife and lover and son that blindly adored him, making a male housewife out of Whizzer)…
He’s freaking out also because of what Whizzer said and what that means for his previous actions and sacrifices.
Whizzer says, “Do I love him? No.”
And that devastates Marvin. Because if that were true, then that meant Marvin would have to accept that all he did - leave his wife, alienate his kid, tear apart his family - was for nothing.
It’s clear that Marvin loved Whizzer because he gave up everything for him. And it was in that moment that Marvin realized:
It was all for /nothing/. Whizzer didn’t love him. Like, his entire life is falling apart - and also, he now believes that he ruined his life and isolated himself from his family all for a guy that he loved but didn’t love him back (allegedly, of course).
Marvin says, “I am so dumb.” It’s so significant because throughout the musical, Marvin constantly bragged about being so smart and successful. Even in most of “Marvin Hits Trina,” Marvin is still bragging about himself (accusing Trina of “ruining his seed,” of trying to “make him look bad,” and essentially telling her that he did treat her well with the lyric “how could you ever deny what we had?”). But it takes Whizzer - someone who Marvin dehumanizes and calls stupid and who he obviously thinks is below him - to first knock him down by beating him at chese and then to destroy him further with one word: “[Do I love him?] No.”
Marvin finally feels dumb because now he thinks that Whizzer never loved him, that he threw his life away for a man who truly did not give two shits about him.
That part is so heartbreaking because it’s the peak of Marvin’s character development - Whizzer finally makes him stop blinding himself with all these self-praises and blaming other people for his mistakes in order to soothe his ego by tearing him down with a truth that Marvin had refused to ever accept.
Because if Whizzer didn’t love him, then that meant that Marvin would have to admit that he’s not so smart and desired and deserving of love. He’s “so dumb.” And that’s what makes him freak out. He let himself love and give up everything for someone who never cared, and it’s such a devastating blow to his self-esteem. He’s been “tricked” by some stupid tramp of man - someone that he thought he could always dominate and force his will upon.
I don’t know. It’s the best part of the first act - especially for Marvin as a character. I feel like that was the moment he stopped bullshitting himself and learned to face a very clear fact that everyone knew since the beginning:
Jewish Tradition on the Importance of Speaking Out Against Hatred
Jews all over the world recently observed a fast day on Tisha B’Av
(the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) in commemoration of major tragedies
in the history of the Jewish people, including but not limited to the
destruction of the temple and the sacking of Jerusalem. As I have now done many
times, I listened to the traditional chanting of the book of Eichah (Lamentations),
but this time found it I was hearing it quite differently. With all the fear
and uncertainty of our time, Eichah to me came across as less of a lament and
more of a warning. Here is an account of this great tragedy in the history of a
nation from those who experienced it, and over and over again they say, “Eichah?”
Why? Wherefore? How could this have befallen us? I remembered a rabbinic
teaching that it was on account of “baseless hatred” that these tragedies occurred.
It was with this that the warning of Eichah then became clear. THIS, the
lamenters cry out, this is what happens when you allow baseless hatred to run
rampant. Because it was not just those who acted upon such hatred or even those
who held such hatred in their hearts who held the blame. Our tradition teaches
us that the bystanders are also accountable, those who stand by and say and do
nothing while hatred spreads. We find this in the very story that the rabbis
bring in the Talmud to explain the chain of events that led to the destruction
of the second temple. Tucked away in the middle of Masechet Gittin, there is a
story told of a man who had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy named Bar Kamtza:
“Jerusalem was destroyed on account of Kamtza and bar Kamtza, as a
certain man whose friend was Kamtza and whose enemy was bar
Kamtza. He made a feast [and] said to his servant: Go bring me Kamtza.
[The servant] went [and mistakenly] brought him bar Kamtza.
[The host] came and found him (bar Kamtza) sitting. He
said: That man is the enemy of that man (i.e. you are my enemy). What
do you want here? Arise [and] leave. He (bar Kamtza) said
to him: Since I have come, let me stay and I will give you money for whatever
I eat and drink.
He (the host) said to him: No. [Bar Kamtza] said to him:
I will give you money for half of the feast. [The host] said to him: No. [Bar
Kamtza] said to him: I will give you money for the entire feast. [The host] said
to him: No. [He then] took [bar Kamtza] by his hand, stood him
up, and took him out.
[Bar Kamtza] said: Since the Sages were sitting and
did not protest , learn from it that they were content. I will [therefore] go
and inform against them to the king. He went said to the emperor: The Jews
have rebelled against you. [The emperor] said to him: Who says? [Bar
Kamtza] said to him: Send them an offering, and see whether they will sacrifice
[The emperor] went and sent with him a three-year-old
calf. While [bar Kamtza] was coming, he made a blemish on the upper
lip. And some say on its eyelids, a place where according to us,
it is a blemish, but according to them, it is not a blemish.
The Sages thought to sacrifice for the sake of peace with
the government. Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas said to them: They will
say that blemished [animals] may be sacrificed on the
altar. [The Sages then] thought to kill him (bar Kamtza) so that he would
not go and speak. Rabbi Zekharya said to them: They will say that one
who makes a blemish on sacrificial [animals] is to be killed.
Rabbi Yoḥanan says: The humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas
destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.” (Gittin 55b-56a)
Now, reading this story, it is easy to see hatred as the driving
force of this narrative, one act of hatred leading to another, and ultimately
ending in the destruction of Jerusalem. I would perhaps say that the rabbinic
term, frequently translated as “baseless”, here seems something more like
disproportionate and/or misdirected. But whether we see the hatred the host
expresses toward bar Kamtza, or the hatred bar Kamtza then expresses toward the
rabbis, these were not the only sins contributing to this chain of events. In
fact, the rabbis who stood by and said nothing do share part (though certainly
not all) of the responsibility.
For in another Talmudic passage, we are taught the following:
“Anyone who had the capability to protest [the sinful
conduct] of the members of his household and did not protest, is apprehended
for [the sins of] the members of his household. [If he is in a
position to protest the sinful conduct of] the people of his town, [and
he fails to do so,] he is apprehended for [the sins of] the
people of his town. [If he is in a position to protest the sinful conduct
of] the whole world, [and he fails to do so,] he is apprehended
for [the sins of] the whole world.” (Shabbat 54b)
While theirs was certainly not an act of hatred, the fact remains
that rabbis could have spoken up and protested, ending the cycle of hatred which
the host began (as could the servant, for that matter, or anyone else who was
in the room), and instead they did nothing. When we fail to speak out against disproportionate
and misdirected hatred, we allow it to spread, and ultimately share
responsibility for the tragedies that occur as a result.
So for me, the lesson of Eichah this year is: When you see hatred,
call it out. And when you see people with power who refuse to speak up, or
worse, equivocate rather than identifying such hatred for what it is, call them
out too. It is not hateful to protest against bigotry. Rather, it’s an act of
chesed, or lovingkindness, to try to prevent the tragedies their hatred may
N.B. Hebrew and Aramaic are very terse languages, with a lot of meaning determined by context. For that reason, I filled in the syntax (marked in brackets) and clarified pronouns (marked in parentheses) where necessary. All insertions were based on Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel’s translation found in the William Davidson Talmud, available on Sefaria.org.
I know that it’s a bit late (two nights, precisely) to say this, but happy Chanukah to everybody! That’s the first part of this post. Now for the second. This post is directed toward my Jewish followers. If you are a Jew, I urge you to do a Mitzvah. This is the easiest Mitzvah that I know of, and it takes less than two minutes. Say the entire Shema. English or Hebrew, or whatever language you desire as long as you understand it. Ater you get dressed in the morning, crack out a prayer book that you may have or refer to this post for the text:
For the last three words after the final comma, say them twice and then the word “emet” afterwards (like so: אני יי אלהיכם, אני יי אלהיכם אמת). Also, say this before you go to bed at night. Each is a separate Mitzvah and it’s guaranteed to brighten your day! For the English text of the shema, refer to this text: Cover your eyes with your right hand and say:
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One.
Recite the following verse in an undertone: Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.
You shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.
And it will be, if you will diligently obey My commandments which I enjoin upon you this day, to love the L-rd your G‑d and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, I will give rain for your land at the proper time, the early rain and the late rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be sated. Take care lest your heart be lured away, and you turn astray and worship alien gods and bow down to them. For then the L-rd’s wrath will flare up against you, and He will close the heavens so that there will be no rain and the earth will not yield its produce, and you will swiftly perish from the good land which the L-rd gives you. Therefore, place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, to speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise. And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates - so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the L-rd swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.
The L-rd spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to attach a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner. They shall be to you as tzizit, and you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of the L-rd and fulfill them, and you will not follow after your heart and after your eyes by which you go astray - so that you may remember and fulfill all My commandments and be holy to your G‑d. I am the L-rd your G‑d who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your G‑d; I, the L-rd, am your G‑d. True.
Congratulations, after saying this, you have done a Mitzvah!
I seriously encourage this practice of saying the shema twice - once shortly after waking and before going to bed. It will seriously infuse your life with meaning.
Sorry it’s been a while, I know I suck. Things are… shall we say not so shiny? I’ll try to keep up with posting at least once a week, but I can’t promise it’ll always be a chapter of this. At least until the shine comes back this side of the screen.