Ahavat Yisrael: Love beyond Reasons

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Ahavat Yisrael: Love Beyond Reason

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow*

Many discussions of Ahavat Yisrael . the Love of the Jewish People . sweep into one muddled "brown" too many different colors that we might call "love."

There is the respect due to EVERY human being , not just the people Yisrael , as a bearer of the Tzelem Elohim (Image of God).

There is the special concern (both for support and for rebuke and confrontation) that Jews may owe each other for the sake of not encouraging chillul hashem . the hollowing out of God's Name, pretending to celebrate the Tree of Life while actually cutting away its inner juice and vitality).

There is the open-hearted warmth of those who share each others' values rooted in Jewish history, practice, and tradition.

I certainly have a very different view of Baruch/Aror Goldstein (the Purim mass murderer of 29 Muslims at prayer in the Tomb of Abraham) than I have for Raymonda Tawil, a Palestinian journalist who has struggled steadfastly and nonviolently for a generation to win Palestinian freedom and insist that Palestinians recognize and honor the humanity of Israelis and Jews. It would not occur to me to use "ahavah" for what I feel for Goldstein or for those who light candles of honor at his tomb; for Tawil, very possibly.

But even with Goldstein I recognize a special bond . for the reason I felt so shattered at his act was precisely that he was a Jew acting in the name of God and Torah, in fact creating an utterly horrible midrash on Megillat Esther. Perhaps this was the first time, may it be the last, im rzteh hashem, when a midrash was written not in words but in bullets and blood, directly from the barrel of a murderer's gun.

If "ahavat yisrael" is understood to encompass the absolute necessity of steadfastly rebuking, confronting, and opposing Jews who are hollowing out the Name of God, torturing the Image of God in other human beings, and bringing shame and guilt upon the Jewish people, then . yes, it may encompass all Jews. If what Jeremiah and Amos did was ahavat yisrael, then . yes.

But that's not what most people who use the phrase mean by it. If it means compromising with arrogance and idolatry for the sake not of "shalom" but of not rocking the boat, then . no.

But there is one aspect of this that bears deeper thought. Especially in the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av, we might think more deeply about "sinat chinam" or "gratuitous hate," which the Rabbis taught was the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple. I think it was Rav Kook the elder who taught that its redemptive cure must be "ahavat chinam" . gratuitous love.

"Chinam" is from chen, "grace" . that which pours out though undeserved. God's "chen" is love that pours out undeserved. It is different from "chesed" . love that is intertwined with the loyalty due a covenant-partner . and from "rachamim" . the compassion that a mother feels ["rechem" = womb] for her child.

What is ahavat chinam in practice? I would say it is steadfast nonviolence in the Martin Luther King mode. "Love" even toward those who are imprisoning, demeaning, killing. I do not think it is "ahavat chinam" restricted to Jews alone that redeems us from the destruction that comes from "sinat chinam" . but "ahavat chinam" toward all bearers of the Image. Most especially toward those who are also children of Abraham, from the other branch of the family.

This kind of love does not require passivity in the face of injustice, hatred, terrorism, or war . no matter whether it is "our" folks or "their" folks who are perpetrating these deeds. It demands a loving concern for not shattering the Image of God even in those who do such things.

I am not calling on people to achieve this level of "ahava," especially since I myself don't rise to this level very often, if ever. I am simply saying that I don't think it is really "ahavat chinam" if it is restricted to Jews alone, or those who agree with us alone. That's not really "chinam" since it's based not a "gratuitous" outpouring but on a felt tie, whether of family covenant or value-covenant.


* Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and the author of a number of works of Jewish renewal, including Godwrestling . Round 2. Copyright (c) 1999 by Arthur Waskow.

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