(This is a continuation of a post I originally wrote on 1/22/11).

עולם חסד יבנה

“The world is built on lovingkindness…” [1]

“Hesed,” G-d’s quality of “lovingkindness,” expresses itself in us — Divine creations that we are — too.  We’re loving beings: “Love is not a virtue that we must struggle…to acquire. It is inherent in us; it resides in the depths of the human heart, it is knitted into our being. The powers and attributes manifested by G-d are potentially resident in us, who are created in G-d’s image. Love, therefore, is intertwined with the very roots of our being. There is none so mean or so base, that we have not within us a spark of Divine love, which occasion does kindle.”  [2]

No matter what else we feel or express towards others, underneath — we are actively loving.  It’s part of what we are; always.

We needn’t reject or regret any other human reaction or feeling that we have. Let’s accept, respect and learn from them all, yet balance them with a reminder of the perfect loving that’s most natural to us. Doing so opens doors for us: doors of wider possibilities in our reactions to stresses with other people; doors of consciousness. Loving, we know ourselves best.

Choosing to love, and in acts and expressions of love, we call forth Love itself:

“Love…like all other inherent powers, must be consciously cultivated and expressed; efforts must be made to call it into action; otherwise, it will remain in a potential state, finding only rare or inadequate expression.” [3]

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch also understands “Hesed” — lovingkindness — as work in which we each have a part:

“…’Hesed,’ the lovingkindness which G-d desires to make a living reality…[is] an edifice which all coming generations have to build, and to whose eventual completion every age is expected to make its own contribution.” [4]

From where can we draw the love we need for our work of creating a kind, loving world (as Rabbi Hirsch suggests)? From the “Divine image” in which we’re created — from the Divine essence of what we are.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, I hear much about the need to take greater defensive action (e.g. gun control, which I support) or philan-thropic action (donations). But I haven’t heard anyone discussing the need to create a more loving culture.

“Efforts must be made to call [our love] into action,” says Rabbi Lichtenstein.

But — How?

As a beginning, we can decrease the “me vs. you” way of thinking, in which “my” worth is measured by how much more materially, socially or financially successful I am than “you” are. It sometimes also seems that our culture celebrates one who achieves success by beating others down, more than it celebrates one who achieves success by kindness to others. It’s really quite “gladiatorial.” It’s carried out even in the simplest of activities — driving, waiting on a line patiently, and so on. “Road rage” is an epidemic. This degree of competitiveness — in which our sense of self-worth is always being challenged — is killing us as individuals.

In everything we do as individuals — every act, every word we speak, every thought we think — we’re creating a cultural atmosphere. This is true, whether we know it or not. We have a responsibility, then, for the character of the culture we’re creating. If we create an atmosphere in which some are “outsiders” or “losers,” then we shouldn’t be surprised if those whom we’ve denigrated or humiliated take actions — even seemingly irrational ones — to redress the imbalance between the self-worth that their own souls declare is their right, and the contempt they receive from the society around them. Haven’t we told them: “If you can beat someone down, you’re better than they are?”

Everyone has worth. We must apply that principle in thought, word and action to everyone around us. “Worth” isn’t always measurable by how much money you can make for yourself or someone else (e.g. sports figures are paid huge salaries because of the income they can draw in for team owners, sports managers, etc.).

We don’t all “shine” in the same “arena.” Michael Jordan was a fabulous basketball player; as a baseball player — not so much.  Do we denigrate him because he wasn’t successful at baseball? No. When he played the game for which he was most naturally suited, he shined uniquely. It’s true of us all — given the right circumstances and the right support, we’ll each “shine.” Some find those circumstances, some don’t; some find it by degrees. Each person we meet has the potential to be very good — perhaps great — at something. It might not always be income-producing. Maybe he/she can be a great parent; maybe he/she can develop a specialized knowledge base that would be of use to others (e.g. both Eric Harris and Adam Lanza were computer “wiz-es” in different ways).

And this is a mere “first” step.

I’m not so naive as to believe that love alone can make the entire difference that this world needs. I’ve worked with children — and adults — who don’t respond to manifest expressions of caring. I’ve also seen children — and adults — act out their inner conflicts in the most loving of environments. But I’ve never seen a person worse off for the expression of love to and for them. Even Eric Harris, on his way to do the shootings at Columbine HS, told Brooks Brown, a student who had been friendly to him: “I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.” [5]

To come out of the events in Newtown with greater fear might be unavoidable. But we can come out with a greater sense that we all must love more, too.

The work begins with ourselves.

What within you stands in the way of your loving more?

[1] Ps. 89:3 (translation based on Yale University Press; The Midrash on Psalms)
[2] (based on) Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health; p. 128
[3] ibid.
[4] Hirsch, Rabbi S.R.; The Hirsch [commentary on] Psalms; p. 123
[5] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9658182