Am I Allowed to Love Myself?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I have often heard that we are supposed to "love your fellow Jew." This statement bothers me. It smacks of tribalism and almost racism. Surely we should love all of humanity equally, not just our own people?
Every human being is created in the image of G-d. And so we should respect every person equally. But love cannot be equal. To love everyone equally is not realistic, and perhaps not ideal either.
For love to be healthy it needs to have a ripple effect, starting within and spreading outward. First I must love myself. Then I can love my immediate family. From there the love can spread to my extended family, my community and my people, and only then to humanity as a whole.
The intensity of this ripple of love diminishes as it spreads outwards. My primary responsibility is to myself, and I shouldn't feel guilty about it. It would be unnatural to treat every stranger on the street with the same love and devotion as I treat my own spouse. And I can't love my neighbour's kids as much as I love my own.
This is not to say that one love contradicts the other. The opposite is true, these concentric circles of love build on each other. Only when I look after myself, can I effectively look after someone else. If I don't love my own family, my love for the stranger will be unbalanced. My inner circle of love needs to be stable, so my outer circles will be anchored and strong.
There are indeed some exceptional souls who have the capacity to love all humanity equally, and view every child as their own. But for the rest of us, by loving ourselves, our family and our people, we can come to love the world. When our love begins at home it can spread outwards.
The Jewish people are all one family. Even more than that, we are one collective soul. That's why we need to love each other. To paraphrase the Talmud, "If I am not there for my own, who will be?" This love will only broaden our capacity to love, as the Talmud continues, "But if I am only for myself, what am I?"
Bava Metzia 62a חייך קודמים לחיי חברך
Isaiah 53:7 מבשרך על תתעלם
Tanya Chapter 32
Pirke Avos 1:14