You are a good person. You are sharing, even in ways that are uncomfortable – which is difficult to avoid at this time of year! You try to be kind. You remind yourself to be generous. Generally speaking, the golden rule is your guide:
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
You give yourself a pat on the back. You are on a spiritual path, and with all appropriate humility, you have ‘nailed it.’
I’d like to share a story about two sisters:
Jane recently became engaged and registered for her wedding gifts at various shops and made the lists accessible to her invited guests. Her older sister Donna, upon seeing the gifts that Jane registered for perceived Jane’s taste as expensive, frivolous, and thought that the items she had chosen were fairly non-essential. She kept her opinion to herself, but she bought a practical wedding gift, not one that Jane had registered for, but one that to her mind was appropriate. Classic sibling rivalry? Sure. But Donna’s underlying consciousness was, “If I wouldn’t buy it for myself, it’s not something I think you need either.”
That’s the little problem with the golden rule. For instance, what if your dear friend called you and asked if you could stop by the store on the way to her house and pick up some crackers. “No problem,” most of us would say. But what if the only store that sold organic, pressed flax, gluten-free crackers was all the way across town? Most of us would not drive out of our way for crackers for ourselves and therein lies the problem with treating others as you would like to be treated. For your friend, would you go above and beyond what you would do for yourself?
The limit of my potential for treating another person can’t be limited by what I would do for myself. If I have lack in my life, I don’t want to be comfortable with others having lack in theirs. Therefore, your guiding principle should be to love your neighbor MORE than you love yourself. Loving others like you love yourself just isn’t good enough.
This doesn’t mean that others can be allowed to take advantage or that you must become a doormat. Rather, it’s a challenge to elevate your level of care, respect and love for others.
Before the great kabbalist Rabbi Eliezer left this world, he shared that the path of life is to be careful to honor your friends. He didn’t say study, or acts of sharing, or prayer. His message was to treat your friends with respect — to honor everyone like they are the Creator. That message is profoundly beyond “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
There is a section of the Midrash (a book of commentary and analysis of the Bible) that explains what happens at the moment of death. When a soul is ready to leave the body, the angel of death appears and asks four questions before the soul can depart.
1. Did you study the Bible?
2. Did you share?
3. Did you connect to the Creator every morning and evening?
4. Did you take upon yourself your friend as a King?
The kabbalists explain that this means treating others with respect, treating them as a king, or the Creator, and is among the most important lessons. So important, in fact, that it is the last question one will ever answer.
We are SO far from treating others with that level of respect that it would be laughable if it weren’t so concerning. To illustrate just how far we are from treating others with this level of love and respect, make a date with your partner or a friend and agree to treat each other as you would the Creator for an hour or an afternoon. Hilarity is sure to ensue!
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
My husband Michael gave a lecture a couple weeks ago about how much we love other people, and if our love is continuously growing, then we can be sure that we are growing, too (spiritually). It’s such a simple tool to use to assess where we are on our path. Do I feel more love today for my family and friends than I did last week? Or a year ago? How can you change your behavior to treat others with greater respect and show greater love?