Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Our Most Basic Message: "Love your neighbour as yourself"

Today I reread a page from a book that was discussing Judaism's most basic message, the teaching "for the sake of which all the rest of Judaism exists". One rabbi, Rabbi Akiva, argues that it is "love your neighbour as yourself". This a teaching that is present in many religions and is simple but profound. It is a teaching that, I feel, if everyone held in the highest esteem would make the world a far fairer and peaceful place. 

When I was studying in Jerusalem this summer and we were discussing this topic, somebody asked: how does this apply to the individual who does not love themself. Loving yourself is not easy or simple. I know that I am my own biggest critic, I sees flaws in myself that others would barely notice. In fact it is possibly harder to love yourself than it is to love others. I find that it is less difficult to love the parts of yourself that you are proud of, the parts of you that are successful. More problematic is how to love the parts of you that are imperfect. How can I love my ill self? How can I love the me who is frustrated at the slow recovery or the me who has lashed out at loved ones when in pain? I believe it is possible to attain acceptance of these imperfections, but, love is stronger than that. Is it possible to love ALL of ourself and if it is not, what are the implications of this on the teaching "love your neighbour as yourself"?

I have avoided / manoeuvred around this obstacle by turning to Rabbi Ben Azzai's view of Judaism's most basic message. He believed that "every human being is God's image" is the main teaching of the Torah. This principle means that I am still just as obliged to love every other human being, and yet this love is not dependent on my love of myself. 

Love of the more challenging parts of myself is something requiring work. At present it is difficult to even imagine how one loves the sick or broken part. My current opinion is that it is possibly impossible and that instead love of oneself is a balance and as long as the balance is tilted so that there are more parts that we love than parts we accept, one can truthfully say that they love themself. 

No comments:

Post a Comment