Wisdom from a teen on how to “love your fellow as your self.”

Parashat Achrei Mot-Kedoshim 5781 / פרשת אַחֲרֵי מוֹת־קְדשִׁים
Torah Portion: Leviticus 16:1-20:27

Every now and then I find wisdom in unexpected places that I like to share with the community, and this is one of those times. This morning I received the weekly email from Hazon, “the largest faith-based environmental organization in the U.S., which is building a movement to strengthen Jewish life and contribute to a more environmentally sustainable world for all.” The centerpiece of this email is an inspiring d’var Torah by Anna Dubey. Her by-line says that “Anna is a high school senior at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in New York City and is a founding member and Director of Public Relations of the Jewish Youth Climate Movement, a movement that empowers youth to fight for climate action.”

Anna draws a connection between the commandment in this week’s Torah portion to “Love your fellow as your self” (Leviticus 19:18) and one of the laws of Shmita, or the “sabbatical year,” which requires the forgiveness of debt. The Torah offers no direct guidance on how we should love others. Implicit is the idea that we love others by following those positive and negative commands in the Torah that our sages termed, ben adam l’havero” or between one person and another. In her commentary, Anna points out that forgiving debt is akin to letting go of all kinds of emotions that hold us back and that prevent others from moving forward, too. Forgiveness itself, Anna says, is “crucial for loving others and ourselves.”

I would just add that sometimes forgiveness itself is too difficult to muster. Sometimes people hurt us in ways that are not forgivable and sometimes they don’t deserve our forgiveness. (See https://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2018/09/when-not-to-forgive.html.) But that doesn’t mean we have to be held hostage emotionally, psychologically and spiritually by the harm done to us. Sometimes, in fact, it is even possible to build loving relationships with those who’ve violated our trust.

As a rabbi and as a human being, I am all too familiar with the pain caused to children by neglect and abuse. What amazes me is how so many people are able to move beyond that pain. Sometimes people do forgive. Other times, they allow themselves to grieve what they lost as a result of the harm done them. Other times, they view the perpetrator with compassion, seeing in them an illness that was beyond their control. All of these are ways to let go of the grudges that can otherwise weigh on us forever. It is heartening to see that a teen understands this and is teaching us to do the same.

To read Anna’s devar Torah, click HERE.

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