Believe it or not, there is no specific mitzvah (commandment) to love your parents. You don’t have to love your spouse either — although it’s a good idea — nor are you commanded to love your children. In fact, there is no specific requirement that you even like them very much.
Of course, these relationships fit under the generic rubric of “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18), but the Torah does not require more from us than that. That is part of why it is so interesting that we are specifically commanded in this week’s parsha, Kedoshim, to love a convert (Leviticus 19:34).
My Rabbi, Rav Noach Weinberg of blessed memory, used to explain the meaning of love thusly: Love is the pleasure we get when we focus and identify with another and their virtues. When you see the virtues in people, you will most certainly love them.
This process is much more fulfilling and meaningful than even Hallmark could have envisioned. By loving, we come to emulate. We, in fact, become what we love. We change our direction to take on the virtues we admire. It may be slow and imperceptible to us, but subtly those changes do occur.
The reason the Torah does not require us to love any specific person more than anyone else is that those people may not have virtues greater than anyone else. As much as we would like to think of them as special, maybe our loved ones have no extra special virtues, and therefore the Torah does not go out of its way to tell us to love them more than anyone else. Of course, everyone is special, and has exceptional talents and qualities, and that is why we are commanded to love them and recognize those virtues.
So why a convert? A convert has something more than everyone else. A convert went against the grain. It is this that the Torah specifically wants us to focus on and love. If we appreciated their emotional strength, if we understood their spiritual path, if we valued their arduous undertaking, and if we therefore loved them, we would become like them.
Abraham was a convert. Judaism is a religion of converts. If you aren’t going against the grain, you are hardly getting the message of what the Torah is telling you.
The greatness of a person is not who they are but how far they traveled to get there. We, too, have places we would like to be, obstacles we need to overcome. Accomplishments we would like to win. To do that, all you need is love. The more we love the greats of life, the greater we become.
by Rabbi Stephen Baars
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.