“We Deliver Love…” If Only!

The other day I was stopped at a traffic light behind a floral shop delivery van:

“We Deliver Love”

Their tag line (as seen on the photo above): “We Deliver Love.”

If only life were that simple. If only our world could be filled with love by receiving a delivery of flowers! No more hatred, no more violence, no more racism. Only flowers…lots and lots of flowers, and therefore, love!

Unfortunately, we know this isn’t the case. We know where hatred, violence and racism abide, love, flowers and beauty seem to disappear.

How can we “deliver love” to the world around us in the midst of violence, evil and hatred?

Perhaps we can learn something from what has come to be known as “The Golden Rule”, one of the most famous lines in the Hebrew Bible which teaches about “love:”

“V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha (Leviticus 19:18). Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many other religions have their own version of this as well.

There is much discussion surrounding this: what does it mean to “Love one’s fellow”? WHO is one’s fellow? Is it only people just like ourselves? Or is it everyone? Do we love those people who don’t love us back? I was thinking about this last week because as we are well aware, last Wednesday and Thursday, on two different continents, racism and hatred motivated vicious attacks on religious institutions.

We all know of the horrific shootings on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Nine people who were engaged in bible study were gunned down in cold blood by a young man steeped in hatred and racist ideas. First, he sat alongside the pastor studying for awhile in this beautiful, historic church, before pulling out his gun. (For a thoughtful, cogent and articulate perspective, please read Rabbi Lucy Dinner’s “Response to the Massacre in Charleston”. Rabbi Dinner is a Reform rabbi and a southerner, with keen insight into the situation).

The very next day, Jewish extremists perpetrated a horrific arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha in Israel. This is one of the most famous Catholic churches in the Holy Land. They too, were steeped in hatred and racism.

And if we were to scour the news, we would find multiple other events happening across the globe on a daily basis, all motivated by those same ideologies: hatred and racism.

Racism and hatred are learned ideologies. Each of us is born innocent. Those who hate, are taught to hate by others around them, by their environment, by their cultural upbringing.

But there is hope that even those who grew up learning about violence, hatred and racism can change. For example, in Israel one NGO called: “Combatants for Peace” comprised of Israelis and Palestinians grew out of a desire of Palestinians and Israelis who were tired of fighting each other. They now work together to promote dialogue, understanding and harmony.

So what does “V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha” have to teach us about this situation? Dr. Jacob Milgrom, (in his book “Learn with Torah,” Vol. 5, number 30) teaches us three things about this verse:

  1. Loving to or for your neighbor implies action not just feeling. (Do for your neighbor as you would do for yourself) (both Hillel and Jesus taught what is hateful to you, do not do to others, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Hatred is a learned response and therefore, it can be unlearned as well. We need to take whatever actions are necessary to teach understanding, respect and tolerance.
  2. “Your neighbor” implies someone who is physically close to you. This is not a stranger, not an anonymous next door neighbor – but someone who shares your neighborhood with you, who shares the same fears, hopes and dreams as you. For example, this means we must help our friends in the South understand that the Confederate flag is hateful and hurtful to many.
  3. How can you love someone else if you don’t or can’t love yourself? If we can’t find a way to love ourselves, it’s difficult or impossible to love another. When one feels worthless, one can’t find those God-like qualities within – and can’t recognize that other’s are also made in the image of God. Therefore, it becomes much easier to treat others as “less than” or as value-less.

So let us ‘deliver love’ by learning how to love one another and ourselves in our actions and our deeds. And then maybe our world can be filled with flowers, beauty and love for all. 

Zoe’s Beautiful Eyes

My 7-year old niece Zoe has the most beautiful eyes. From the time she was little, everyone has commented on the remarkable beauty of her big, blue eyes.

Zoe - eyes
Zoe’s beautiful eyes

But what makes Zoe’s eyes most beautiful, is that they reflect her inner beauty: her way of looking at the world that often belies her age. Zoe will often say things that are both wise beyond her years and reflect the innocence of her youth simultaneously.

Her ideas and notions are often deeply (and unintentionally) rooted in Jewish tradition and there is great wisdom to be gleaned from what she shares.

So on this New Year’s Day, I would like to share these lessons from Zoe for 2014. If we can strive to live up to these four ideas shared by Zoe, 2014 will be a very good year indeed.

1. Zoe has only recently joined a swim team. Physical activity has been a challenge to her and she has worked hard over the past year taking both physical therapy and occupational therapy to overcome some challenges. At her first “away” swim-meet, she placed last. But she was so thrilled to be there. On the phone, she told me in a very excited voice, “Auntie Sharon, I wasn’t disqualified!” She had a fabulous time and she was still “in the game”! Zoe appreciates all that she has. She lives life in the moment, with joy, zest and contentment.

We learn from Pirke Avot, “Teachings of the Fathers”, 4.1 “Who are wise? Those who learn from all people…Who are rich? Those who rejoice in their portion.” We too, can find a way to live “in the moment, ” to rejoice in our achievements and celebrate our success, to live with joy and contentment and to be thrilled that we are still “in the game.”

2. One day, out of the blue, Zoe told her mother, “Mom, I have a very big heart. My heart is so big, it can hold 1000 elephants.” Zoe’s heart IS tremendous! She is generous and kind. She feels empathy for others. She understands that we have an infinite capacity for love and for reaching out to others with a helping hand, a loving touch and a kind word.

The third book of the Torah, Leviticus 19:18, instructs us: “V’ahavta l’re’acha ka-mocha” – You shall love your neighbour as yourself. This is known as “The Golden Rule”. I could write a piece just on this, but suffice to say for now, that each of us has to feel as if our own heart can “hold 1000 elephants.” We need to feel a way to reach out to others and make a difference in their lives.

3. December 26, 2013 was the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. As my brother was observing our father’s yahrzeit (anniversary of death), Zoe said, “Grandpa, I love you as much as I’d love the world to live in peace.”

Zoe and her generation deserve to live in a world filled with peace. 7-year olds should not have to be worried about war, violence and terrorism.

Pirke Avot also teaches us: (1.12) “Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing it.” It’s our obligation to work toward making this world a more peaceful place. If 7-year olds can verbalize that wish – we must act on it.

4. Zoe also gave my brother a 5-point business plan for his work. It was a fabulous business plan (Harvard Business School – watch out!) Her first part applies to us all:

Smile more. If people see you smile more, they’ll feel better about themselves. Then THEY will smile more and do a better job and make other people feel better about themselves. If you are smiling, perhaps that will encourage everyone to enjoy what they are doing. This ties back to the very first point above.

So, if we strive to live our lives in the year ahead through Zoe’s eyes, we will appreciate what we have and live life with zest, open our hearts to others, strive to make this world a more peaceful place and smile!

All the best for a 2014 filled with the blessings of health, contentment, joy, love and peace!