Starting the day with love not hate

Every morning at the start of my Shacharit prayers I recite the beautiful meditation (mentioned by Rabbi Dov Zinger and MK Yair Lapid at the funeral of Naftali, Eyal & Gilad), which states:

הֲרֵינִי מְקַבֵּל עָלַי מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁל: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוךָ, וַהֲרֵינִי אוהֵב כָּל אֶחָד מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כְּנַפְשִׁי וּמְאודִי, וַהֲרֵינִי מְזַמֵּן אֶת פִּי לְהִתְפַּלֵּל לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא

‘I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment of “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (1) and I hereby love every one of the children of Israel as [I love] myself and all I possess. And I hereby prepare my mouth to pray before the King over kings of kings, the Holy One, Blessed is He.’

However, this morning I struggled to say these words. I struggled to say that ‘I hereby love every one of the children of Israel’ because, as has been widely reported, the innocent life of Muhammed Abu Khdeir was taken by members of ‘the children of Israel’. While I didn’t want to skip these words, I also did not know how to say them either.

As I sat and reflected, I was reminded of the Gemara (2) which tries to explain the law of returning lost property of your enemy (3). The Gemara asks ‘how can the Torah speak about a Jew hating another Jew? Surely we are told that “you shall not hate your brother in your heart”! (4) To which the Gemara responds by stating that someone who has performed an act of evil should be hated (5). With this in mind, I was about to recite this prayer, but before I started, I halted again having remembered a further commentary to this verse.

According to the Tanya (6), the permission to actively hate another only applies to a companion towards whom an individual had already warned them about their behaviour. ‘But’, writes the Tanya, ‘as for a stranger.. “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the creatures and drawing them near to Torah” (7). As the Tanya adds, even if the case of those who are ‘classified simply as “creatures”, one must attract them with strong cords of love’. Inspired by this insight, I proceeded.

The fact is that it would have been easier for me to start my day hating those who brutally took an innocent life (and there is no doubt that whoever these perpetrators are, applying the term “creature” to them is itself excessively kind!). However, I realised that I have two choices. I can start my day by choosing to limit the love I have for others, or I can start my day by pushing myself to find a way to love others whose behaviour and attitudes directly conflict with mine. Certainly this does not mean that when a crime is committed, one should ‘turn the other cheek’ (8). However, what it does mean is that I have duties even to those I regard as my enemy.

I previously mentioned that we are required to return lost property not only to our friends by also our enemies. Tragically, while some of those losses – specifically, the lives of Naftali, Eyal, Gilad & Muhammed – cannot be restored, we can do more to restore our faith in humanity and the sanctity of life. For me, this starts each morning by finding a way to accept upon myself the positive commandment of “You shall love your fellow as yourself”.

(1) Vayikra 19:18
(2) Pesachim 113b
(3) see Shemot 23:4
(4) Vayikra 19:17
(5) Basing itself on Mishlei 8:13. It should be noted that numerous commentaries distinguish between the application of this law in prior generations and ours. See for example Meshech Chochmah on Devarim 22:4
(6) Tanya Ch. 32
(7) Avot 1:12
(8) Matthew 5:39

About the Author
Rav Johnny Solomon is a Seminary teacher and a Jewish Education Consultant.
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