Monday, July 9, 2018

Love in the Liturgy

Most people would identify prayer as a vertical endeavor: Mortals communicating with God. Yet, as we will learn, there is a beautiful custom to begin our prayers by thinking horizontally, i.e. about our relationship to our fellow human beings.

The renowned 16th century mystic Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria, known by his acronym ARI, taught that those praying should begin with a verbalized commitment to fulfilling the commandment of loving one’s fellow. As such, some prayer books, especially those following Rabbi Luria’s customs, pronounce the following declaration at the beginning of the morning prayers: “Behold, I accept upon myself the positive Biblical commandment of ‘you shall love your fellow as yourself.’” 

Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1635-1682), whose commentary is known as the Magen Avraham, ruled that prior to beginning formal morning prayers, one ought to accept upon themselves the commandment of loving their fellows as themselves (see Magen Avraham Orach Chaim 46). This brief comment brought the ARI’s mystical idea into the mainstream. Many other rabbinic commentaries have echoed this position.

Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Abridged Code of Jewish Law), whose 132nd yahrzeit is observed today, wrote the following regarding the critical importance of this morning resolution: “If Heaven forbid there is division within the hearts of Israel in the lower world, there will also not be unity in the heavens.”

Many parents prioritize their children getting along with one another even above their own relationship with their children. Biblical commentaries note that when Abraham ran to care for his guests, he cut short a visit from God (see Genesis 18:1-2). God, like parents, would prefer that His children care for one another, even at the expense of God’s own honor.

Lessons such as these help build Ahavat Chinam, baseless love, and Ahavat Yisrael, love for Israel, during this critical time of the Three Weeks.

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