Loving Your Friend as Yourself

One of the most well-known verses in the Torah is ואהבת לרעך כמוך.[1] It is often erroneously translated as “love your neighbor as yourself.” In our society many people do not know their neighbors, let alone love them. We live in silos in the suburbs, with each individual home being a world unto itself. A better translation of the phrase is to “love your friend as yourself.” The word רע in Hebrew means friend. At the same time, how many of us love our friends as ourselves? We might wish our friends well and any opportunity for success, but if we are competing with them for a job would we really want them to have the same success as us?

What I find fascinating about the word רע is that it is the same word which is used in the Sheva Berachot, the 7 marriage blessings. In the sixth blessing we say שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, “loving friends shall truly rejoice.” Often people say, “I’m in love with/I married my best friend”-and today is no exception to that. By the time a couple reaches the חפה, they know each other so well.

The blessing continues כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם “May your joy be as that of the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden.” We pray that Sara and Jeffrey always feel the sense of edenic paradise, that the joy which you feel now as well as under the wedding canopy will remain with you always. We know that often in life joy climaxes and then fades; the honeymoon period is too short-lived. It takes work in order to keep up the level of joy and intensity that one feels at their wedding. One thing that helps us do it, however, is to recognize that you are and will remain lifelong friends. Friendship strengthens every bond, including a loving relationship like yours.

Can you really love even your רע, your significant other and life partner, as yourself? We are so competitive with one another, always striving to prove “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Even with our partners, we tend to play the blame game when things don’t go as we envision-and even worse we can throw others in the middle of our grievances. A statement like “love your significant other as yourself” demonstrates that when we hurt our partner we also hurt ourselves. We are stronger together.

Rabbi Isaac Luria teaches that when we wake up every morning we should say הריני מקבל עלי את מצות הבורא ואהבת לרעך כמוך “I receive onto myself the commandment from the Creator to love your neighbor as yourself.”[2] The fact that he said it every morning demonstrates the perpetual need to remind ourselves of it. Without remembering to treat one with whom we are in relationship as we treat ourselves, we can quickly spiral into marginalizing or putting down that person to build ourselves up. We need to lovingly remember to embrace this principle each and every day; one which is easy to say but hard to do.

The hardest time to keep this is when we see something unfavorable in ourselves or in our partner that we would love to change. Rather than responding with criticism or put downs, we recognize, as the Meor Eynaim teaches, that “if we see something unfavorable in ourselves, we do not hate ourselves but that unfavorable thing. How we are in ourselves is how we respond to our fellow.”[3] If we respond to our personal limitations with compassion and kindness, so should we do with our significant other.

Jeffrey and Sara, my blessing for you is that your love continues to blossom each and every day and that you remain one another’s רעים אהובים best friends, always looking out for the other and letting your love conquer any challenge that comes your way in life. I also know that you will continue to stand by one another, providing confidence and bolstering the other up in times of need. In remembering that your relationship with one another is what is truly most important, much more so than the particular disagreement or issue at hand, may you strengthen your true love each and every day. In addition to being each other’s partners, always remember that you are best friends and then your marriage will thrive. Mazal Tov!

[1] Leviticus 19:18

[2] The Prayerbook of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria)

[3] Meor Eynaim on Chukkat

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The Holiness Code

We are now beginning a section of the Torah known as the “Holiness Code.” A central idea of this section is that the entire people of Israel bear the responsibility of seeking to achieve holiness. It is spelled out by putting these three weeks of portions next to one another “Aharei Mot, Kedoshim Emor”-after the deaths (of Aaron’s sons) you are commanded to be holy; or set apart from others.

Being set apart is not very comforting language in this day and age. Some feel that to be special implies that one is superior and others by definition are inferior. Yet what it means is that each of us has a unique destiny or path that is only for us. In that way we are set apart from everyone else.

How are we set apart from those around us? One way is through following in the footsteps of those for whom we are named. Each of us needs to embrace the positive attributes of those who came before us. Magnolia Fay’s Hebrew name is Perach Emunah. Perach means flower, just as magnolia is a type of flower. We pray that Magnolia will be nurtured and that she will blossom and grow strong each and every day.

Emunah means faith. When times are not going well, we pray that Magnolia have faith and that she take comfort from our tradition. The refrain Amen, from the same root as Emunah, is our communal response to having the faith we need to believe in G-d even when we are filled with doubt and uncertainty.

Magnolia’s English middle name, Fay, is after Sandy’s mother. Fay and Lou Staub were devoted members of the Jericho Jewish Center. They purchased a Torah which is in our top row in the Sanctuary, and they also dedicated a school classroom. Many meetings in the early years of the Jericho Jewish Center occurred in their home.

We know of great-grandparents Bill and Sandy’s contributions to the Jericho Jewish Center, with Bill being a Past-President, designing and donating a Tallit rack and the Tefillan drawer in the Beit Midrash, being the steward of the Holocaust Memorial Garden and a regular service leader, Haftarah reader and minyan attendee. We know of Sandy’s contributions through doing the calligraphy for every Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Baby Naming and being last year’s Sisterhood Woman of Achievement. We also know of her parents, Fay and Lou Staub’s great love for the Jericho Jewish Center and their building our congregation in its nascent years. These are big shoes to fill but Magnolia will become a leader in her own right and who knows? Maybe a future Synagogue President.

Let us pray that Jaclyn and Chris will raise Magnolia Fay with the values imparted from those who lived before us, and that she will be viewed through those positive attributes. Let us also recognize the blessing of this special day. May Magnolia Fay always be blessed with an outpouring of loving, doting parents, grandparents who spoil, aunts and uncles who cuddle, cousins who love and all of the blessings of life. Mazal Tov on reaching this special day!