Give Away What You Want The Most
by Rabbi Judith Beiner
The medieval Jewish mystic, Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the ARI) is said to have recited these words before praying each day: “ Hareini mekabel/et alai, et mitzvat haBoreh, v’ahavta le’reeicha camocha. I am ready to perform the mitzvah to love my neighbor as myself.” In reciting this commandment, the ARI set an intention for prayer. In this case, he was seeking deveikut ( connecting with God- the ultimate source of love and meaning.) The Torah is specific in demanding that we love our neighbor; it is a duty which we set out to fulfill every day.
This directive is not always easy to follow. Our world is complicated; people commit heinous acts of cruelty, and we see illness and destruction every day. It can be hard to wake up in each morning, and greet others cheerfully and with any optimism, much less with love.
As a chaplain, I understand the challenge quite well. A significant number of the patients I see are in pain and suffering. Many are alone and lonely; others are frightened and defeated. The same can be true for the family and friends who hold vigil at their bedsides. I frequently engage patients in conversations, taking the time to listen and respond to their stories. I’ll take their hands and recite a mishebeirach. It is easy to see when someone is being comforted: they might become more animated or alert, they share intimate details of their condition or their lives, they squeeze my hands as I hold theirs and tears run down their face as they hear a prayer. And this scenario repeats several times a day, 5 days a week.
People often ask me how I hold steady, and how I manage to maintain control of my own emotions in the face of my daily experiences. I can admit that it’s not always easy. Yet I’ve found that when I bring someone comfort and healing, I receive it in return. As I fulfill that commandment to ‘love my neighbor, I am loved. And that’s how I get up the next day, and do it all over again.
The playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler teaches us: ‘Give what you want the most’ (one of the ten principles of the City of Joyhttp://drcvday.org/10-guiding-principles/). Rather than resulting in deficits, giving others strength, comfort and love will leave our souls fulfilled.
May we be blessed every day to fulfill the Divine command to love our neighbors.
Ordained at HUC in New York in 1993, Judith lives in Atlanta, Georgia where she serves as the Jewish Family and Career Services (.www.yourtoolsforliving.org) Community Chaplain.