Love is one of the most confusing and misunderstood words in our vocabulary. We start off our lives with a very primitive, selfish love—we enjoy food, for example. We feel a connection to a food item with a flavor that pleases us and which satisfies our hunger, and our brain tells us we “love” it. There’s an age-old joke: We take a fish out of water because we love it! We laugh because we know it reflects self-love, not the genuine and altruistic variety.
This all-consuming feeling continues to mislead us in childhood friendships and throughout our youth. We “love” people whose company is pleasurable; we “love” things that make us feel good. This isn’t entirely negative. The Rambam, teaches us to educate children in the way of Torah using prizes and other rewards. Then, the child will initially be excited to study and keep the mitzvos because of their own self-interest.
Is it possible to love selflessly? Isn’t feeling, by definition, a response to something we are getting? And isn’t sinaas Chinam, undefined hate or dislike of another, also a natural expression of our selfishness?
This where the soul comes in. At age 12 or 13, our neshamah fully enters our lives, and we are able to see things more objectively. We realize that we have a selfish side, which leads to the emotional challenges of the teenage years. Yet the main change is that we can connect to others outside ourselves in an objective way.
Ahavas Yisrael is based on this. We can connect to another person not because we are getting something; rather, we recognize that we are really one. We love our children not because they make us proud but because it’s an expression of the oneness of all of our souls being bound together. More frum Yidden stay married all their lives because we attend to this unity of souls and not merely because our spouse gives us more than anyone else in our lives.
A believer sees in G-d’s creation a oneness linking all that we encounter. When we use an item for a mitzvah or even to go somewhere or to refresh ourselves in preparation for mitzvot, we are not simply using something for a selfish purpose. Linking physicality to our mission makes this world a heavenly place.
By putting ever more effort into seeing each other and the world around us as one unit, each part will help the others to finish our mission of bringing light, joy, and G-dliness into all that we encounter.
Wishing you an enjoyable Shabbos,