In Parshat Devarim: Learning to Love, Rav Miller notes that who we love & how we love should be determined by Hashem, not by our own emotions and sympathies, nor social pressure.
So he points out that the Torah calls Edom (Esav) acheichem—your brothers.
That’s weird, isn’t it?
270 years since a common ancestor, and Am Yisrael in the Wilderness hear bnei Esav called their “brothers”?
Furthermore, the Torah also tells us “Lo titev Adomi ki achicha hu—don’t abhor the Edomite because he is your brother.” It also warns: “Al titgaru vam—Don’t antagonize them.”
In this way, Hashem tells you how to shape your attitude toward different types of people. You need to use both your mind and your heart to do so.
So while Hashem doesn’t want us all buddy-buddy with Edom, He also doesn’t want us to abhor or antagonize Edom.
And to facilitate this desired emotional state, Hashem reminds us of the shared kinship with Esav.
Shared Ancestry Fosters Fraternal Feelings
People feel a kinship going back, whether it’s their shared Irish clan or something more official, like ancestors who took part in the American Revolution.
(There is even an organization called “Daughters of the American Revolution” which is open only to those women whose great(etc.)-grandfather aided the American cause against the British in the 1700s.)
So reminding people of shared heritage is a way to bring out certain fraternal emotions.
“Attitudes of the mind cannot be developed in a vacuum of emotion.”
Brothers & Sisters in Mitzvot
So when the Torah speaks of a distant fraternal connection with Edom, it’s teaching us to find an emotional connection to help us love our fellow Jews.
As Rav Miller explains:
It’s important to make use of every means available in order to facilitate and increase the love that Hashem wants you to feel.
Instead of being cold philosophers, stoics who are ashamed of emotions, the Torah encourages the employment of natural emotions in order to fulfill the mitzvah of [v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha—and you shall love to your fellow like yourself].
Rav Miller emphasizes:
Because it’s not a brother like Eisav who is merely connected to us by blood, by DNA…Chazal tell us that [achicha] means [achicha b’mitzvot], “your brother in mitzvos.”
It’s not merely a brother of the same ancestor; it’s a brother of the same mind! A brother living for the same purpose.
Practical Steps toward Ahavat Yisrael
Now I’m far away from this myself.
I’m saying this not for you; I’m listening to it myself as I’m saying it. Maybe a little bit will stick to me. But I let you listen along with me because at least we have to learn it - at least that.
We have to make an effort, a career of loving our fellow brothers-in-arms.
Basically, we need to train our minds & emotions.
When we see fellow frum people (even those not from “our” group), we need to think: “This is my brother” or “This is my sister.”
Even when you pass by frum homes and you don’t see the actual people, Rav Miller encourages us to think, “These are my brothers and sisters and I love them.”
Rav Miller advises that even when you see a frum Jew from afar, you should look at him and think, “This is Hashem’s Chosen one.”
You should think about the mitzvot they do. Oh, look—this Jewish lady is covering her hair…wonderful! And this Jewish man over here put on tefillin this morning—love ya, brother!
Now, maybe this doesn’t blossom into full-fledged love, but Rav Miller reassures us that the resulting warmth we feel puts us on the right path toward real love.
Real Love Starts Small & Expands; Global Love is Usually Fake
Those people who claim they love everyone? He claims they don’t love anyone.
I’ve seen this so many times. Someone can be swooning over injustices in Africa while they treat their own spouse, sibling, parents, neighbors, colleagues, or children poorly.
Many animal-rights activists are not the nicest people. Some are even cruel and callous types.
Rav Miller said in a previous dvar Torah that Hashem loves everyone—all human beings whether Jewish or not—and even birds, every living creature.
And love starts at home. (Like tzedakah, I guess.) Then you fan out from there.
But why is it so hard to cultivate love for fellow Jews?
Azamra with Slabodka
So we need to cultivate feelings of affection to overcome this.
Rav Miller’s Rebbe in Slabodka recommended starting off with one Jew.
Pick a Jew who’s easy to love and go from there. (If you read page 10 & 15-16 of this dvar Torah, Rav Miller goes into more detail about how to carry out this particular step.)
You can even take automatic love (like love for your own children) or superficial “love” (like based on the person’s appearance) and use that as a springboard for increasing your feelings of love and affection.
Why isn’t that self-centered or superficial?
Because you’re doing it FOR Hashem.
You’re doing it to fulfill a mitzvah and to make yourself more affectionate and loving.
You don’t REALLY think that a person’s worth is based on looks or that only your children matter.
You’re just focusing on positive aspects, no matter how automatic or superficial, then you’re going to fan those flickers of love.
And here’s a very important aspect of ahavat Yisrael, as told to Rav Miller by his Rebbe in Slabodka:
“A person is not one middah,” he said, “He's a bundle of middos.”
So one thing might not be to your liking, but something else is good in him.
And therefore you cannot form an opinion just in general about a person. A person is a big bundle of character traits; he’s not just one thing.
So in case you can’t love the person entirely, you can learn to love at least one aspect of his personality.
It just goes to show you that we agree about the fundamentals. We have a place to connect. Many places, actually.
Nothing Compares to You
Love for ALL tzaddikim, whether you follow this one or that one, is paramount.
It’s very important to read Toras Avigdor's original PDF because there is so much this post is leaving out. Love, love, love.
Rav Miller quotes Chapter 19 of Mesillat Yesharim:
"Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu ohev eleh mi sheh ohev Yisrael - I love you because I only love those who love My People."
So it’s very important to ingest as much of this as you can.
Let’s wind down with a final quote from Rav Miller (emphasis mine):
You’ll say, “Yes, in general, all Jews, I love. I love all of them. But when it comes to this Jew, no,
not this one.”
“He’s from a different shtibel,” you might think.
He's not in your neighborhood, maybe not your nusach, maybe he’s a Sefardi or a Teimani. Maybe he’s a Russian Jew or a Polish Jew, so you think, “Not him, not him.”
No, nothing doing! If he’s from the zera Yaakov, then he’s yours!
There is nothing Hashem loves more in the world than the offspring of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.
Nothing compares to Hashem’s love for you.
And who is “you”?
You could be the most foolish fellow; a fellow with all faults. Ugly, slow-witted, nothing to love.
Hashem loves that person with an intense and fiery love.
Parshat Devarim: Learning to Love
Here is an AMAZING brand-new video on the topic:
And as always, all credit for any quotes above goes to Toras Avigdor.