V’Ahavta

Recently I asked my kids, “What’s the most important thing in Judaism?” “Not to succumb to road rage?” my son offered, noting my impatience with the car in front of me. “It starts with L,” I prompted. “Laughter?”, “Learning?” and then “Leniency?” they tried as I remained silent.

I was looking for the other L word: love. “Why love?” they asked. “You don’t have to love; you can’t make someone love,” they said. Perhaps, but consider Rabbi Hillel’s response to a potential convert to summarize Judaism while standing on one foot: “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary; now go
and study.” Rabbi Akiva rephrased it, “Love is the most important teaching, and be sure to act on it. The rest will follow.” (aish.com)

“It’s the seeking that matters,” I try to explain, though I admit I struggle to embrace the value in the face of missed marks, self-doubt and insecurities. I’m challenged by the political climate, the unfairness of disease and untimely death, parenting & partnering, legitimate righteous anger as well as the smaller stuff like unwashed dishes, my
neighbor’s late-night parties, and slow drivers.

Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that Judaism expects, in fact requires we strive & struggle. The night before meeting his long-estranged brother Esau, Jacob battled an unnamed entity (an angel? God? Himself?). In the morning the unnamed one blessed him with a new name: Yisrael (wrestles with God). Like Jacob, we all wrestle the challenges and obstacles to finding love, living in love, understanding what love offers and demands of us. “Jacob wrestled with the angel and the battle left him with a limp and a new name. Jews collectively embrace the name Israel, because we will wrestle, even when it means that we may leave limping” (Chabad.org).

We have many rings in which to wrestle the hard questions, doubts and fears. And we have reminders like the Mezzuzah; the bit of Torah scroll on our doorposts cuing us to V’ahavta (and you shall love). I do try to shed the stresses of my day to greet my family with kindness, laughter and love (OK, and leniency). Some rings are safer than others.

“We had such a good day last week,” said Morah Karen (aka Karen Bennett, CBE’s 3rd/ 4th grade religious school teacher). “They were all such mensches, every one of them. They care about each other even when they’re being a little loud & silly. ‘I just like to see my friends smile,’ they say.” What did they practice? Only the most important lesson Judaism has to offer. Round 1 to Love!

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