Minute 794: Imperfect Love

“We learned today that loving one’s neighbor is a mitzvah that encompasses the essence of Torah,” Jacob said. “It’s difficult, because I do like others but prefer myself over anyone else.”

“That mitzvah can’t be done,” Refael said. “There’s no way I can put myself in second place.”

“Even if I’m initially impressed with a new acquaintance, it doesn’t take long before I find that someone I’ve met demonstrates a bad trait,” Jacob said.

We are taught that Hashem does not command us to do anything we are not capable of doing. Even mitzvot dealing with emotions, such as not to covet, are within the realm of possibility. But one might ask, “How is it even remotely possible to fulfill the commandment to love another as myself? Even the most loving individual may love all others but would probably start their list of favorite people with themselves.”

When one wakes up in the morning and gets clean and dressed to confront the day’s challenges, one may look in the mirror and see the perfect self one imagines oneself to be. Of course, everyone has flaws; however, a look at oneself is a picture clouded by prejudice. Rather than highlighting one’s faults, psychological “makeup” covers up all “blemishes.” When looking at another, the opposite psychological mechanism exaggerates the other’s weaknesses, shining a bright spotlight on any negatives.

The Torah commands: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Although it’s natural to favor oneself above all others, fulfilling the commandment is possible if one looks at others in the same manner one examines oneself. Accept the flaws as minor imperfections and highlight the positives. If one can accept another’s weaknesses as one tolerates one’s own failings, one will learn to love another as one loves one’s imperfect self.

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

The most fundamental trait man must have in serving Hashem is yir’at Shamayim. Even mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), if it isn’t inspired and propelled by true yir’at Shamayim — fear of Heaven, plain and simple — is worthless. As a matter of fact, many wicked people devote themselves to lofty endeavors, but their mesirut nefesh is not based on fear of Hashem, and so it has practically no value. (Rabbi Nissim Yagen, Netivei Ohr, p. 402)