Building a World of Love

Shabbat Service

 50. 50 bells.

I did not count. I stood, somberly listening to each bell ring. And then a pause.  I wondered during each pause, is this it? Are we done yet?

And I watched. I watched cars driving through the street. I watched people walking by.

The bells did not stop ringing. 22, 23, 24.

I tried to make out the individual faces of the people across the street. And I heard another bell —  37, 38, 39.

I felt my eyes welling up with tears. And the bells, they kept ringing — 45, 46, 47.

They are still ringing. My heart started to beat fast. Really fast. I grew angry.

48, 49, 50.

Love not Hate, Amanda. Love not Hate.

Earlier this week a wise voice spoke, “Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope…”[1]

How?

How does love conquer hate when time and again violence destroys our world, our lives?

How does love give us the courage to act when we become numb to acts of terror?

How does love make us strong when we feel too weak for words, let alone action.

How?  How, God, How?

How, as one voice spoke out this week, am I supposed to “stand on stage and deliver some well-meaning words about how we will all get through this together, how love wins, how love conquers hate [when] I am too angry for that…Love does not win unless we start loving each other enough to fix our problems.”[2]

But we must.

We must love. We must love. We must love.

50 times over and more.

What can we do? How can we act? We must love. Not passively. Not as an emotion. But as a verb, as an action.  Our tradition teaches us, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh”[3], “We must build a world of love”.

Three times in the Torah God commands the Jewish people to love.

“Love your neighbor.”[4]

“Love the stranger.”[5]

“Love God.”[6]

Rabbi Tamara Eskenazi explains, “The three commandments are three dimensions of a single, deep connection: to love God is to love others, those like us and those who are not.”[7]

On Sunday morning, when a hate-filled man opened fire at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Jews all over the world were observing the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday associated with the scroll of Ruth.

Ruth, is perhaps our best example of what it means to love, not as an emotion, or a passive feeling.  God only acts once in the entire book of Ruth, however it is through the actions of chesed displayed by the characters in the story that we find God.  In other words, when people act with Chesed, God is acting in them.[8]  The lesson of the story of Ruth teaches us that through our actions, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, we can build a world of Chesed.

Chesed.  A word that we often translate as “loving-kindness”.  It’s a special kind of love. A covenantal love.

Love is a covenant. Our entire Jewish tradition is about covenantal love — God created the world, so that God would enter into a relationship of love with the Jewish people, God redeemed us from Egypt because God loved our ancestors, God brought us to the Mountain of Sinai and revealed the Torah, another covenantal contract of love.[9]

When the Torah commands us to love, we are commanded to be more than just kind. It involves two parties, a relationship, a covenant of how people in relationship should act towards one another.  And it is intentional.  It requires that both parties must consciously choose to act with chesed, with love towards those we encounter regularly.[10] 

Olam Chesed Yibaneh. We must build this world from love.

In a world filled with hatred, and a world in which we are not safe when out at a nightclub dancing, and in a world where you can get shot because of the color of your skin or because of whom you love, in a world where prayers and good thoughts to victims of violence are simply not enough and a world where it is okay to bully others because of their religion and in a world where people are afraid to go to sleep at night, and a world where anyone can walk into a gun shop and purchase a rifle and a world where we so many of us have become numb to these regular acts of violence and terror…and in a world where we are at a loss for words or even worse actions… olam chesed yibaneh, we can and we must build a world of love.

We need to reclaim our capacity to love. Our ability to give our love to others.

For love is…

Love is…standing beside people of different faiths, singing and praying together

Love is…marching for pride, celebrating our LGBTQ friends

Love is…members of congress walking out of a moment of silence, knowing that silence won’t change anything.

Love is…15 hours of Senators holding the floor until reaching an agreement to allow votes on gun control measures.

Love is… Jet Blue Airlines flying the Orlando victims’ families to their funerals free of charge

Love is…an entire Orthodox congregation comforting and supporting mourners at Gay bar in Washington DC.

Love is… turning to the person next to you and smiling, saying hello.

Love is…in the words of philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, “what brings to life whatever is dead around us”.

Love is…opening our eyes to the pain around us.

Love is…speaking out against hate.

Love is… signing petition after petition to advocate for gun safety.

Love is…standing together. Supporting each other.

Love is…remembering each and every victim in Orlando and in Tel Aviv, and in Brussels, and in Paris, and in San Bernardino, and in Charleston, and in Sandy Hook, and in Boston and… in the too many places…

Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love is Love.

The Talmud teaches, “One who destroys a single life, it as if he destroys a world.”  One person has destroyed our world. But the text from the Talmud continues, “Whoever saves a single life, is as if he saves the entire world”. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day — this is our call, to be that person to save a single life, through chesed, through love.

When we are lost and want to throw our hands up and ask, Why, God, why? We know that love and covenant teaches us that while we wait for an answer…we know what to do.

I can still hear the bells ringing. And the pauses between, as I stand in between our Christian and Muslim partners.

I listen to the names of each victim read aloud.

And I think…Olam Chesed Yibaneh.

We must continue to build a world…without these 49.


[1] Stephen Colbert

[2] Samantha Bee

[3] Psalm 89:3

[4] Lev 19:18

[5] Lev 19:34

[6] Deut 6:5

[7] The Torah A Women’s Commentary. 716.

[8] Hubbard as in The JPS Bible Commentary.

[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-bradley-shavit-artson/jewish-love-covenant_b_1130513.html

[10] Myles Coverdale

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