The three weeks period between the 17 of Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, besides being a time to remember and mourn the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash in Yerushalayim, is a very special time to focus on love. The spiritual root cause of the churban and all the other tragedies of Jewish history that resulted from it was sinas chinam, disliking and hating each other for no good reason. So it only makes sense that the way to remedy this is to go out of our way, especially during these three weeks, to try to like and love each other — even for no good reason.
In our story two brothers learn a lesson in love.
If you’d seen Avi and his twin brother Josh racing up and down the hall of their school late one Thursday afternoon, you might have thought they were training for the Olympics.
But you’d have been wrong, because the two boys were just trying to give out invitations to their upcoming twin Bar Mitzvah party. The problem was that nearly every time Avi would run and stick an invitation into one of the student lockers that lined the hall, Josh would be right on his heels rushing to pull it right back out.
“No way! Nachum? Forget it, man! We’re not inviting him!” Josh said as he deftly grabbed yet another invitation from the slot in which his brother had put it just a moment before.
“But why not?” asked Avi, growing more frustrated by the minute. “Nachum’s a nice guy. Did he pick a fight with you, or do something to hurt you?
Josh shook his head. “No, actually nothing like that…but, I just don’t like the kid. He’s not my type, you know what I mean?”
“No, not really.” said Avi as he snatched the invitation out of his brother’s hand and stuffed it back into the locker-slot, only to have Josh grab it right back out. Soon the brothers got into a tug-of-war over the poor envelope which ripped in half sending both of them tumbling to the ground.
The guys got up, half laughing and half mad, and wiped themselves off. “How about we take a time out and work this out over a couple of pizza bagels across the street?”
“Great idea.” Josh said. “Let’s go.”
The boys sat at their table, and the waitress came by with the menus. “I’ll be back soon to take your order guys,” she smiled.
Avi turned to Josh. “Okay, can you please give me one good reason you refuse to invite almost every kid I want to?”
“If I don’t like someone, why should I invite him?” Josh answered simply.
“But, why don’t you like them? That’s what I want to know.”
“Because,” he grumbled.
“Yes, I don’t like them just because.”
“But not liking people ‘just because’ is called baseless hatred, and is exactly the kind of thing that we learned about in history class that caused the holy Temple to be destroyed and causes all the problems in the world.”
“Ready to order, boys?”
The twins looked up at the waitress. “Yeah, we’re going to have the usual, two triple cheese pizza-bagels and two Cokes,” said Josh hungrily.
But before she could write it down, Avi waved his hand. “I’m sorry. Could you please give us another couple of minutes?”
“No problem,” said the waitress, walking off.
“Hey, why’d you do that?” growled a hungry Josh.
“We’re not eating nuthin’ until we get to the bottom of this,” Avi said, arms folded.
Josh nodded. “All right, I guess. So then let me ask you a question. Can you give me one good reason why you do want to invite all those guys? I mean it’s not as if you’re best friends with them. They never did anything for you.”
Avi paused. “First of all, liking or loving someone doesn’t have anything to do with what they do for you. It’s what you do for them that counts. But even besides that, I guess you could say that instead of choosing to dislike them ‘just because’ I choose to like them ‘just because.’ You know, just like someone in court is innocent until proven guilty, in the ‘court’ of our minds, someone should be likeable until proven not likeable – not the other way around. If you don’t do that, it’s like you’re throwing them in jail without even a trial!”
Josh thought for a moment. “I can hear what you’re saying. In the end I guess it’s better to like people than to dislike them for no special reason. So let’s make a deal. We can invite all those kids and I’ll try to learn to like them ‘just because’, and we can order those bagels now ‘just because’ we’re hungry!”
Q. How did Josh feel at first about who to invite to the party?
A. He didn’t want to invite many of the kids because he disliked them even though he didn’t have any real reason to.
Q. How did Avi feel about it?
A. He felt that it was important to like and love each other and we should even try to like people even without any special reason why.
Q. What lesson can we learn from the story?
A. When relating to other people we have a choice of what will be our ‘default’ or automatic reaction to them. We can choose to either like someone until we have a good reason not to, or choose to dislike someone until we have good reason to like them. We make our lives and the world so much better if we choose the path of love and let ourselves see people as likeable until proven otherwise.
Q. Do you think it is possible to like or love everybody? How?
A. Of course, some people are easier to like than others, but if we try to see the good in people we will discover the list of ‘likables’ growing all the time. With few exceptions for those who are genuinely evil, a person can, if he or she tries, find a way to love everyone.
Ages ten and up
Q. Our sages refer to two types of love—conditional and unconditional, and teach that conditional love is bound to eventually fade away while unconditional love will last forever. How do you understand this idea?
A. Conditional love is when we love someone “because of” – because of the way they look, what they do for us, and even because we think we should be loving, or because it makes us feels good to be loving. All of these conditions are subject to change, and if they do, the love that was based on them will immediately fade. But unconditional love, choosing to be loving no matter what with no strings attached, is a much purer and stronger type of spiritual love, and like all things truly spiritual, will last forever.
Q. What do you think is the connection between dislike and hatred amongst us, and the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash?
A. The Bais HaMikdash was an amazing place of daily miracles and an earthly representation of Hashem’s presence revealed in the world. Hashem is the ultimate force of love and unity and wants us to follow His ways by loving each other and being united too. When we chose the opposite path of infighting and senseless hatred amongst each other we, so to speak, made ourselves and the world so incompatible with Hashem’s love and unity that He ‘hid himself’ by allowing the Bais HaMikdash and what it stood for to be destroyed. Conversely, when we finally decide to love each other the way Hashem wants us to He will allow the Bais HaMikdash and with it His revealed presence to return. May it be soon.
About the Author: Nesanel Yoel Safran is a published writer and yeshiva cook. He has been studying Torah for the last 25 years, and lives in Israel with his family.
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