Community Rabbi Corner, May 10, 2019

Rabbi Ari Lucas
Congregation Agudath Israel
Caldwell, NJ
Parashat Kedoshim

Which instruction motivates you more - “don’t hate” or “yes love?” Many are familiar with the Torah’s instruction in Parashat Kedoshim to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) and its centrality to Jewish ethical living. Rabbi Akiva famously declared this teaching a “k’lal gadol batorah - a great principle of the Torah.” Slightly less well-known, however, is the warning in the preceding verse not to “hate your kinsfolk in your heart.” (Lev 19:17) In two consecutive verses, we’re told:

1. Don’t hate
2. You shall love

The juxtaposition raises questions for how we educate and parent. In my own home, I try to make sure that every time I say “no” to something, I’m also saying “yes” to something else. “Please don’t hit your brother” is coupled with, “Please tell him with your words what you’d like him to do.” “No, you can’t have another brownie at kiddush” is coupled with, “If you’re still hungry, you can have some carrots or cucumbers.”

Are students motivated to learn because of a love for the topic or the teacher or because of a fear they won’t do well on a test or have a successful life? Probably a combination of the two or different reasons at different times.

On my walk to shul every Shabbat, I pass by a house that has a lawn sign that reads, “Hate has no home here.” Not knowing the people who live in the house, I assume that they put the sign out in response to the rising xenophobia, racism, and general anger/hatred in American culture. Across the street, there’s a different house with a sign that reads “Love lives here - love of God, family, country, the Constitution…” It seems to me that the latter is intended as a response to the former. As if the second house is saying to the first house, “You think that I’m hateful, but really my political beliefs are driven by love of these things.”

I wonder if those neighbors have ever had a conversation about their political beliefs, or if their placement of the signs is a passive-aggressive tactic in the war for the hearts and minds of people who walk on Hatfield Street. Whatever the case may be, the instruction to find ways not to hate, but rather to actively love our neighbors seems more important now than ever. May our study of Torah and involvement in Jewish life give us the strength and ability to do both.