It wasn’t a day for a barbecue and it wasn’t a day for shopping. A week ago Sunday was the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the fast day beginning the Jewish mourning period known as the Three Weeks. This period is an ideal time to show kindness towards another Jew, any Jew. Because it is through ahavas chinam (baseless love) towards all Jews that we correct our collective spiritual malady, the un-G-dly feeling of dislike among Jews that caused the Holy Temple’s destruction (commemorated three weeks later on the ninth of Av), and dispersed our nation.
Still, going to Cleveland felt a little too easy. Our unmarried kids are all away and our daughter Sara invited us to her house for the break fast. I didn’t even have to think about making dinner.
But, the real reason going to Cleveland felt too easy is that Jews like Yerucham and Goldie are easy to love. We barely saw them after they moved to Cleveland from Pittsburgh twelve years ago, and we weren’t even best friends when they were here, but we always had a warm connection. Their oldest son, Yosef, was a pre-school playmate of our youngest daughter, Rivky. It’s been many years (both Rivky and Yosef just graduated from high school), but I still remember Goldie telling me how Yosef called his friend, Rivky “Nudolph.” For her part, Rivky referred to him as, “Yofef.” I could feel Goldie’s body shake with laughter when I reminded her of that when I saw her in Cleveland on Sunday. I was hugging her as tightly as I could, hoping my feelings of compassion would pass from me to her. Her husband Yerucham, not yet 50, had passed away in his sleep the Tuesday before. We went to Cleveland to pay a shiva call.
Against this sadness, and way too much else, the Three Weeks is a good time period to ponder life as we would like it, life without suffering, life as it will be when the Third Temple is rebuilt as G-d has promised.
So, just how are we supposed to love other Jews, especially Jews who aren’t as lovable as Goldie and Yerucham? To be perfectly honest, Yerucham was lovable because he was so kind and gentle–have you noticed what the world usually does to kind and gentle people?
Think about it. Kind and gentle people are anomalies. How did they get that way, or stay that way? Didn’t they go to elementary school?
I still remember all the details surrounding the first time I was teased. I never wanted to experience that humiliation again, so I protected myself, honing my skills such that, if necessary, I could trounce anyone. To make matters worse, for many years, almost everywhere I turned, the world consistently validated my sense that it was a jungle.
Life was an emotionally exhausting zero-sum game, with my carefully guarded heart reserving love for the few, the trustworthy.
Learning to love Jewishly has been a long and arduous journey. I have far from mastered it. But I have loved both ways, and trust me, loving Jewishly is far more satisfying.
But it entails disregarding much of what the world says. Not just says, screams. Because the world screams separateness. But the mystical truth is that all Jewish souls are spiritually united in their essence, regardless of all appearances to the contrary. Only at the level of the soul can all Jews truly love each other. Which is why the prophet Isaiah says, “if one Jew suffers, we all feel pain.”
Will I ever achieve that spiritual sensitivity in this world? I doubt it. But knowing that it’s my objective, and knowing how much better it already feels to love Jewishly, I’m certainly going to try. Especially now.