“We just need to love each other. We just need love. If we would just love everyone. Just love your neighbor. All we need is love.” –Overheard in too many conversations
At this moment in time, do I really need to recap all that has been going on in the World, in this country, or in our communities? The root cause of our current situation is the Western insistence that all binaries are oppositional, and the problem with binary oppositions is that it begets choice, and choice begets privilege. But that is another topic for another post. Instead I wish to address the answer to all of our problems: Love.
Love is the most powerful force we know. It is the only truly transformative force there is. Yes, hate can be powerful, and it can transform people and their lives, but that transformation diminishes over time and, most importantly, can be overcome by Love. Love, on the other hand, creates lasting change, which cannot be undone. The thing is, however, that saying we just need love is to turn this powerful transformative force into an empty platitude. While it is essential to desire that we love, it is not sufficient to just say it. Love requires action. When you love someone, Love requires you to act for their interests, to protect them, to help them, to make the world a better place for them to live in.
Let’s take a moment to examine the philosophical foundations for this claim of Love being transformative and requiring of us action. Freire, in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, rejects the “banking model” of education (one in which the dominant class fills the oppressed with information about the world) and replaces it with “problem-posing” model, which requires dialogue. Dialogue, for Freire, is the key to ending oppression, as he states, “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of profound love for the world and for people. . . . Love is at the same time foundational of dialogue and dialogue itself.”[i] In other words, even before dialogue can be initiated in order to bring about change, Love must be present. And because this transformative Love, according to Freire,
is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. . . . As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise, it is not love (emphasis added).[ii]
There are as many calls for dialogue between communities as there are calls for love. And yes, dialogue is a vital initial step in bringing about change; however, without Love there is no dialogue. Dialogue, discussion, or even debate without Love is nothing more than a sham, an effort to placate the oppressed and marginalized by saying to them, “I hear you” without having to do anything.
Now let’s look at what the rabbis say. The world depends on three things: on Torah (law), on avodah (service to G-d), and on g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) (Pirkei Avot 1:2). The rabbis placed Love as foundational to the world together with Torah and service to G-d. When asked to teach the entirety of Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Go study.” Rabbi Akiva taught that the essence of Torah was contained in one verse, Vayikra 19:18, “Love the stranger as you love yourself.” In fact, all 613 mitzvot in Torah are about relationships, whether the relationship is between us and G-d, us and ourselves, or us and Others. And, the mitzvot concerning our relationship with the Other command us to love them and treat them with loving kindness (the Amalekites being the exception).
It has often been said that G-d so loved the world, G-d did not use a committee to create it. The rabbis, in a more serious vein, teach that G-d so loves us that G-d gave us Torah. G-d, in other words, is the source of all things, including Love. As Jews, we believe in a loving G-d, and above all G-d loves justice. Of the 248 affirmative mitzvot, only one is neither time bound nor situationally specific: “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live” (Devarim 15:20). The goal of Judaism is to live in the image of G-d, and if G-d is the source of Love and commands us to pursue justice, then it is our obligation to Love the Other as we love ourselves, which means to pursue justice for the Other as we pursue it for ourselves.
Love is a panacea, but it is not a magic wand. Love requires us to take action, to pursue justice, and to use Love to perform acts of freedom and liberation We do not need to just love: we need a Just Love.
[i] Paulo Freire, (1970). The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Edition, (2011). New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group. p.89.
[ii] Ibid. p.90.