August 15, 2014 admin


The Torah contains three commandments about love: ‘Love the Lord your God’; ‘Love your neighbour’; and ‘Love the stranger’. These three injunctions, the essence of Jewish spirituality, communal life and ethics, are now beautifully composed in our Synagogue, above and on either side of the Ark. Thanks to Jason Kelvin, they have been fashioned with subtlety and grace, to show both light and shadow, just as in our hearts the love of others is sometimes prominent and sometimes, sadly, overshadowed.  
The three love commandments share a basic problem. Actions can be commanded, but is it really possible to order a person to love? Surely no one can love on demand; love has to flow genuinely, or it cannot flow at all. Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Lev of Ger, known as theSefat Emet, addresses this question as follows: Indeed, love cannot be commanded. But that is not what the Torah does. Rather, the love of God and other people are natural to us; such is the native propensity of the human heart. All the Torah therefore requires of us is that we remove  the numerous preoccupations which prevent us from experiencing and living according to such love: self-interest, narrow-mindedness, the dulling callus of old injuries where the open heart has been wounded. Underneath them, we will rediscover an unfathomable reservoir of kindness, generosity and love. His interpretation depends on a deep faith, not just in God, but, even more so, in human nature. For many, both stand, sadly, in question.
What do the three love commandments ask of us? The simple answer is ‘not less than everything’; they encompass our entire moral and spiritual world, they engage us in every dimension and relationship of life.
The love of God calls on us to open our hearts and minds to the one spirit, the breath of all living being, which animates our consciousness and the consciousness of all that exists. It asks us to be faithful to the invisible bond of life to which we belong and which speaks wordlessly in all things: ‘You shall not hurt, nor destroy in all my holy mountain’.
The love of our neighbour requires us, in Hillel’s words, ‘Not to do to others what we would not want them to do to us’. When relationships are open and comfortable, it summons the natural loving-kindness within us. When matters are difficult, it asks us to try to understand the challenges and sufferings of others and, rather than responding with anger, to be thoughtful and forbearing and to try to engender healing.
The love of the stranger requires us to imagine life through the eyes of the most vulnerable: what is it like to feel not at home, unsafe, marginal, unwanted and excluded? In the cruel realities of today, it demands of us that we try to read the world not just as it features in our narrative, the story with which we tell ourselves ‘the truth’, but also as it might look to those in other countries, of other faiths, whose accounts might read quite differently from our own. Little is so urgently necessary in our day as such moral imagination. If we all asked ourselves, ‘What does that feel like to others?’ there might actually be no war.    
Nothing is so challenging as these three love commandments. As we endeavour to allow them to direct our lives, we should regard not just our successes, but also our failures, as provisional. In the words of Naomi Shemer’s famous song Od Lo Ahavti Di! I haven’t loved enough. Which of us has done even a significant fraction of what we could for our neighbour, for the stranger, or for our own spirt? Yet none of us has ‘failed’. Where we do wrong, where we conduct ourselves less worthily than the person we know we might have been, we must not despair, but learn and endeavour anew. For goodness, like God’s spirit, is never exhausted.  It calls on us to try again, and again and again after that. It is the essence of the holy, and summons us forever.

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