We Like Everyone
Matot-Masay (Numbers 30-36 )
>This Shabbat begins the Jewish month of Av, and a nine day period of remembering and mourning the tragic destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and all the other tragedies that have followed over the past 2000 years. In addition to being a time to mourn, these are also very special days to focus on love. Our sages teach that the spiritual root cause of all these tragedies comes from 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 nine days, to try to like and love each other - even for no good reason.
In our story a pair of twins learn a lesson of love.
If you would have seen Gary and his twin brother Rob running up and down the hall of their day school late one Thursday afternoon, you might have thought they were maybe training for the Olympics.
The two boys were just trying to give out invitations to their up and coming 'twin' Bar Mitzvah party. The problem was that nearly every time Gary would run and stick an invitation envelope into one of the student mailboxes that lined the hall, Rob would be right on his heels rushing to pull it right back out.
"No way! Jack Rivers? Forget it, man! We're not inviting him!" Rob 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 Gary, growing more frustrated by the minute. "Jack's a good kid. Did he pick a fight with you, or do something to hurt you one time?"
Rob shook his head. "No, nothing like that ... but, I just don't like the guy. He's not my type, you know what I mean?"
"No, not really." said Gary as he snatched the invitation out of his brother's hand and stuffed it back into the mailbox, only to have Rob grab it right back out. Soon the twins 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 hot pizza across the street?"
"Great idea," Rob replied. "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.
Gary turned to Rob, "Okay, can you please give me one good reason you refuse to invite almost every kid I want to invite?"
"If I don't like someone, why should I invite him?" Rob answered simply.
"But, why don't you like them? That's what I want to know."
"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 Jewish 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, a large mushroom pizza and two Cokes," said Rob hungrily.
But before she could write it down, Gary waved his hand. "I'm sorry. Could you please give us another couple of minutes?"
"No problem," said the waitress, walking off.
"Hey, what was that all about?" growled a hungry Rob.
"We're not eating anything until we get to the bottom of this," Gary said, arms folded.
Rob nodded. "All right, I agree. So let me ask you a question, then. 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."
Gary paused. "First of all, liking or loving someone doesn't have anything to do with what he does for you. It's what you do for him that counts. But even besides that, I guess you could say that instead of choosing to dislike him 'just because' I choose to like him 'just because' Just like someone in court is considered innocent until proven guilty, in the 'court' of our minds, someone should be likeable until proven not likeable and not the other way around. If you don't do that, it's like you're throwing him in jail without even a trial!
Rob thought about what his brother said. "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 the pizza now, 'just because' we're hungry!"
Q. How did Rob feel at first about whom 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 do so.
Q. How did Gary 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 discover within 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 him. 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. Certainly 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. Except for the few exceptions of those who are genuinely evil, a person, if he tries, can find room in his heart to love the whole world.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages refer to two types of love - conditional and unconditional, and teach that conditional love is bound to die eventually while unconditional love will last forever. How do you understand this idea?
A. Conditional love is when we love someone 'because of something.' Because of the way he looks, what he does 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 die. 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 Holy Temple?
A. The Holy Temple was an amazing place of daily miracles and an earthly representation of God's presence revealed in the world. God 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 God's love and unity that He 'hid himself' by allowing the Temple and what it stood for to be destroyed. Conversely, when we finally decide to love each other the way God wants, He will allow the Temple and with it His revealed presence to return. May it be soon.