Selected Sermon/Article
2001-05-05 Acharai Mos/Kedoshim by Rav Ze'ev Smason
The Secret of Loving Others
It seems that just about everyone has a different perspective on marriage. If we asked 10 different people "What makes a happy marriage?", we'd probably get 10 different answers. Some would say "communication." Some would say "commitment." Some would say "living far away from each other." But there is one common denominator that everyone recognizes as a key component in a successful, happy marriage; that component is-- love.

In one Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is berating Charlie Brown for losing the baseball game for their team. She says, "You blockhead! You struck out, and we lost the last game of the season!" Then she adds accusingly, "You were standing there thinking about your new girlfriend, weren't you?"

As Charlie Brown walks away, he mumbles, "I thought being in love was supposed to make you happy" -- to which Lucy replies, "Where'd you get that idea??"

Lucy was wrong, of course. Love does make us happy. A good marriage that lasts 50 years filled with love and devotion is the most fortunate thing that can happen to us. Studies show that married people live longer than do single people. It lowers your car insurance rates. And most significantly, of course, it provides a tangible addition to that elusive factor called 'quality of life' that we're all seeking.

What advice and wisdom can we find within the Torah to increase the love for people who we're closest too?

"You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am HaShem" (Leviticus 19:18)

Isn't it curious that the command to love our fellow is preceded by the directive not to take revenge nor bear a grudge? What relationship does love have to revenge? How is it, in the first place, that God can even command us to 'love'? I can understand how I can be commanded to keep kosher, observe Shabbat, and lay tefillin -- but love is an emotion. How am I supposed to create an emotion towards a person when that feeling doesn't exist?

Imagine we had with us here in shul today a couple expecting their first child, and we asked them the following question: "Do you think you're going to love your child?" "Of course we're going to love our child!" "But what if he's a brat?" "It doesn't matter -- we'll find something to love about him!"

What we can observe from this hypothetical conversation, is something we all know to be true: Parents love their children because they are committed to loving their children. Parents subconsciously accept upon themselves the obligation to focus on the good things they see in their children. Al Capone's mother was once asked what she thought about her son, who at the time was Public Enemy Number 1. She replied, "What a brave boy!"

Therefore, the Torah can command us to love our fellow, by telling us commit to loving others in the same way that we love our children. Commit to loving that relative who you're not crazy about. Commit to loving that person in shul who gets a little bit under your skin.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? What makes loving people so hard, then? Why is it that every one of us here loves our children and grandchildren unconditionally, yet we don't feel that same unconditional love for our neighbors, friends, relatives -- and even, spouses?

The Torah shares with us the secret of loving others; if you want to 'love your fellow as yourself' -- don't take revenge, and don't bear a grudge! You see, when we take revenge and bear grudges, what we're really doing is 'keeping score.' We have long running lists about the time our relative did this, and the time that that person in the shul did that. And because we're occupied remembering the bad things they've done, we can't focus on the things to love about them. Can you imagine a parent saying to their 5 year old, ' 3 days ago you spilled the orange juice, so make your own breakfast this morning!' We love our children as much as we do, because keeping score against them isn't an option. HaShem says: 'act the same way when it comes to others'.

We're privileged here at NHBZ to have many wonderful couples who have not simply been married for many years, but exemplify in their love for each other and their relationship with other members of our shul the mitzvah of "V'ahavta l'rayacha kmocha" ('loving your fellow as yourself). On this occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of the Waxmans, Charles and Gloria stand front and center as role models for each and every one of us. We all know that when you see good children, that the parents had a lot to do with it! Scott, Brent and Scott and their children are apples that have not fallen very far from the tree.

Gloria has dedicated herself as a caretaker to her 90 year old mother. Gloria and Charles together, in fact, both volunteer a lot of time at the retirement home. They're dedicated to their 9 grandchildren, spending time with them, and enjoying their accomplishments. Most of all, though -- and apparent to anyone who has known them in the 40 years plus of membership here at NHBZ -- Charles and Gloria are dedicated to each other. Always smiling faces. Always pleasant dispositions. Someone once said, "Love at first sight is nothing special. It's when two people have been looking at each other for 50 years, that it becomes a miracle!" We wish you a heartfelt mazel tov, Charles and Gloria, on this wonderful and momentous occasion.

The secret of 'Vahvata 'lrayacha kmocha' is: don't keep score. May we, and our children, and our children's children live to see simchas like the one that we're here today to celebrate with the Waxmans, and be blessed with the wisdom and strength of character to love all Jews, in the spirit of 'v'ahavta Lrayacha Kmocha'

Good Shabbos