A couple of thoughts on love
V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha. Love your peer as yourself.
Self-love is the starting point. Loving another is the follow-up.
If I am for myself, what am I? (Hillel)
I understand this as non-rhetorical. It’s a question that has to be answered: If I am pro-me, then I have to define what it is in me that I am “pro”. And the answer to that should be more expansive than “my body”. Organic lifeforms will easily extend the “me” to “my genes”, which will include one’s children, then one’s siblings, parents, family, genetic/ethnic group, and “gene-partner/helper” which will include one’s spouse. That’s all still “me”.
Those who occupy themselves in the world of thought and ideas will include “those who think like me and share my ideals” in the “me” group as well. Sometimes they may do this even at the expense of the safety of the more natural gene group.
But it starts with “me”.
In the morning, I say “Boruch Ata Hashem Hemevareich es amo yisrael b’ahava” Blessed are You, God who blesses His naation Israel in love. And then not a few moments later I say “V’ahavta es Hashem Elokecha”, I read the command to love Hashem with all my heart etc. The flow of those two statements is that once I hear that God loves me, the natural consequence is for me to love back.
I have often said, only partly tongue in cheek, that we love those who love us because we admire their good taste in friends. “You like me? I like me too! We have so much in common. Let’s spend time together so that I can be reinforced in my love of myself.”
How does expand the definition, and show love to all Jews, or all life, or God? By seeing the commonality of all life. This is a tall order. But it’s on the menu. Often, Jews are so good at this that they feel the need to reject the earlier levels mentioned earlier. It’s an understandable progression. But it’s wrong. Just because we see commonality in formerly distant things, there is no need to reject in more inner layers of our being. Not only is there no need; it’s unnatural to reject those things and people that are more similar than dissimilar. When Jews do this, we call them “self-hating Jews”. Sometimes the title is an unfair smear. But often it’s right on target. I won’t tell you which is which. That’s not important now.
N.B. When this is read with the wrong inflection, (that never happens on the internet), it could be interpreted as cynical. But I don’t mean it that way.
(Based in part on in the introduction to Shaarei Yosher by Rabbi Shomon Shkop and Yemei Ratzon by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe.)