Saturday, May 6, 2017

V'ahavta Lvrarecha Kamocha: Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself Even When It's Hard

I pride myself on loving everyone in my life unconditionally. But I wasn't always this way. So today, I'd like to talk a little bit about loving one another even when it's hard. This past week, in the portions Acharei-Mot-Kedoshim, we read the words "v'ahavta lvrarecha kamocha"--I apologize for the terrible transliteration. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Okay, this seems easy, but I don't think it's supposed to be easy. I think that loving your neighbor as yourself is supposed to be hard:

The first challenge is with loving people who seem to have irreconcilable differences with you. This is difficult. How can I love and respect someone if they are hurting me or if they have beliefs that pain me to think about? And once again, this is not easy, but I think we need to recognize the humanity in each person. You can love a person for who they are even if you don't want to spend a lot of time with them. You can respect someone's beliefs and argue with them instead of cutting them out of your life. You can embrace difference and see it as an asset as opposed to as a problem. This leads me into my second point: Loving people who it's hard to look at.

I know we've all done it. Crossed the street so we wouldn't have to walk past a homeless person, awkwardly avoided the person in the wheelchair at the movies, judged someone for their clothes. Believe me, I have a little sister in a wheelchair. I know what kind of looks we get when we walk down the aisle at the grocery store. We like to throw around buzzwords: inclusivity, diversity, celebrating differences. But how do we actually celebrate differences? In order to do that, we need to stop avoiding difference and start just loving other human beings while confronting difference head on. You can ask me what my sister's name is or just simply wave to her, acknowledging that she is human and your neighbor just like the cashier who you tell to have a nice day. You can spend a little more time listening than you do talking, and maybe, you can realize that all anyone wants is to live a meaningful life and be respected by other human beings.

The last point I want to make is about loving when it's hard in terms of people who are already a part of your life. Sometimes, I'm a hard person to love. I isolate myself, scared that the symptoms of my various preexisting conditions will make me an outcast. I complain of pain, sometimes leaving very little space for other people. It's easy to love someone in the good times. That's not a difficult task, but it is so much more meaningful to love someone in the bad. And at this point, I'd like to thank all of the people who have sat down with me, asked me how I was and wanted a real answer, given me rides places, listened to me talk for hours or just hugged me and told me that I was okay and that I was doing the best I could. These people are the people who love unconditionally. I strive to be one of these people as well: I never turn my phone off, so if someone calls me and tells me that they need me, I will be there in a second. It's just who I am.

We need to strive for love, no matter how much hate and disdain and discomfort there is out there. We need to take this commandment to heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. I'd like to add: even when it's hard.