I was in Costco buying contact solution the other day, and, as all you Costco fans know, it’s virtually impossible to step foot into that place and only walk out with one item. So, sure enough, a couple of clothing racks a few feet away were calling my name. As I was admiring some of the long blouses—the perfect length to cover my now seventh-month baby bump—a woman standing nearby smiled at me and genially remarked, “That would look so cute on you!” I smiled back, thanking her and saying that yeah, it can be hard to find nice, long shirts for pregnancy. We made some more small talk, exchanged smiles once again, and then she wished me well and left to get back to her shopping.
Well, seeing as I was only going in there to get one teeny tiny thing (right), I had seen no need for a shopping cart. So, of course, a couple of minutes later, while my arms were getting full with clothes, the box of contact solution that I was holding (upside-down, of course, the genius that I am), fell open, and the bottles and cases tumbled onto the floor, rolling haywire all over the place.
I scrambled as quickly as I could to the floor, bending over with some difficulty and grunting—think big, obstructive belly—as I tried to grab the bottles and cases strewn across the aisle. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a middle-aged woman standing about a foot away from me, nonchalantly perusing the rack, probably focused on finding the size she wanted, seemingly oblivious to the poor, clumsy pregnant lady’s plight.
I stood up coolly, trying not to seem exasperated (although maybe the inevitable grunt gave me away—I promise, I can’t help it!) and quickly stole a glance at the women beside me. I was slightly amused to find that, indeed, she had not seemed to notice my less-than-graceful fumble at all. On one hand, this somewhat mitigated my embarrassment. But on the other hand, I was a bit taken aback. While it may have been too much for me to expect her to give me a hand, I thought, at least a simple “You OK there?” or even a sympathetic smile would have been nice.
Later that day, I thought back to these two back-to-back encounters. They reminded me of how much impact one small and seemingly insignificant gesture can have. I wondered how many of these small gems of opportunities that I have missed—to smile at a stranger, open a door, give someone a compliment, lend another some help or encouragement.
In the Jewish calendar, we now find ourselves in the three weeks, a mourning period beginning on the 17th of the hebrew month of Tammuz, when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem, and ending on the 9th of Av, Tisha B’av, when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Our Sages taught that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred among the Jews—even during the Roman siege, they remained divided and factionalized. The destruction was not a punishment, per se, but a natural consequence: G-d’s presence can only be manifest where there is shalom, peace, where people care about one another, respect one another, love one another. So, just as the Temple was destroyed and the Divine presence was exiled due to baseless hatred, the Temple will be rebuilt, taught the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory, when we learn to have baseless love.
What is “baseless love?”
Baseless love means, essentially, unconditional love. Love based on who the person is, not on anything that they do, and not who they might become. We must learn to love others by looking deep within them to see them at their essential core—as a person with a unique soul, a person created by G-d and sent to this world to accomplish a specific mission. That fact alone makes him or her worthy of our love.
As nice as that may sound, it’s relatively easy to philosophize about how we love another because he or she contains a spark of G-d within and move on with our lives. But—and herein lies my epiphany—the reality is that true love is never passive. Think about it. When we love someone, we can’t help but do something about it. We are compelled to take initiative. We reach out. We make sure that the other person knows that we love them.
I guess it all comes down to this: We must love. And it’s impossible to both love and act indifferently toward another. Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference.” The pain of being hated pales in comparison to the pain of being ignored.
My hope, for myself and for anyone reading this, is that we consciously strive to be more aware and less indifferent toward the needs of others. Whether we truly feel the love or not, and regardless of whether we are able to intellectualize it, let’s all throw caution to the wind and just do something to make another person feel loved (Think Nike: Just Do It!).
It can start with one, simple act, and it makes little difference how big or small that act is, or who is on the receiving end—a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, enemy, acquaintance, or even a clumsy pregnant girl in Costco who had not the foresight nor the common sense to pick up a shopping cart on her way in that day.
In the merit of our baseless, unconditional acts of love for one another, may we see the Holy Temple rebuilt speedily in our days. Amen!