וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ
The Torah commands us to “love your neighbor as we love ourselves.” This simple idea is perhaps one the most fundamental elements of our faith. We are to approach all of our neighbors, friends, and yes, even enemies, with the love we have for ourselves.
This idea was related in the famous story of a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. The gentile went to Shammai and asked to learn the entire Torah on one foot. Shammai chased the man away, perhaps thinking that such a concept was an impossibility.
Then the gentile went to Hillel. Hillel’s famous response: “Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you. The rest is commentary. Go learn!” The gentile was inspired, and eventually converted to Judaism.
Although it is interesting to note that Hillel framed the idea in the negative, i.e. “do not” instead of the more forceful “love,” the idea is the same.
As I was meditating on this concept today, an idea hit me. The entire basis of “loving our neighbors like we love ourselves” is predicated on the fact that we love our selves. Logically, what would be the point of G-d telling us to love others like we love ourselves if we did not love ourselves? But what if someone does not love his or herself? Does that person have an excuse not to love anyone because he or she does not love the self?
I think the answer to all of these questions lies in the fact that Hashem wants us to actually love ourselves. Because if we do not love ourselves, then at the end of the day we will not be able to love anyone else. And the more you love yourself, the more you have to give to others.
The word for love in Hebrew is “Ahav” from the root “hav.” Hav means to give. The very essence of love is to give until you can’t give anymore. And the only way to give is to fill yourself up with enough so that you have more than enough to give.
And let’s be honest, it’s hard for some of us. It’s hard to love ourselves. When we do things wrong we want to jump on ourselves for being a “stupid this,” or “bad that.” But really, truly, deep down, if we cannot forgive ourselves, love ourselves, and most importantly, accept ourselves, then there will never be enough of us to give to anyone else.
Perhaps some of us are afraid to love ourselves because we are afraid that we will take this idea too far. We might become conceited and that would invalidate the point of trying to love ourselves in the first place. If that is the case then why even try to love ourselves?
I think this is why G-d actually commanded us to love ourselves through these words in Vayikra. Hashem knows that it might be hard to love ourselves, or we might be fearful in loving ourselves.
The key to the right kind of love lies in our intent. We must love ourselves, not because we think we are the greatest, most awesome person in the galaxy. We must love ourselves because we know how special and unique we are, we know that we are truly made in G-d’s image and that G-d wants what is best for us. Each one of us special, has innate talents and abilities. We are all G-d’s gifts to the world and it is with this knowledge that we can appreciate and love ourselves.
Yes, it is possible to love ourselves the right way. If we use this knowledge and this power then there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
Therefore, love yourself. Know that Hashem wants you to love yourself. Because when you do, and you do it the right way, you will have so much to give. And the more you give, the more you love. Love yourself, and you can and will love the world.