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Rabbi's Shabbat Message

The question has always been asked: Should a Jew celebrate Valentine’s Day?  A simple question, but not such a simple answer.  In some ways, Valentine’s Day is the one Australian holiday that presents the Jew with the most difficulty.  Australia Day, Anzac Day, Queen’s birthday, they never pose a problem. Christmas and Easter, also no problem, as they are distinctly for Christians.  

But what about Valentine’s Day?  On the one hand, everyone around us seems to celebrate it.  According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion Valentine cards are sent each year. 

On the other hand, as Jews, we may not be sure whether it's proper for us to join the party. After all, for the longest time the full name of this holiday was “St. Valentine's Day” because of its legendary link with the apocryphal story of one of the earliest Christians -Saints.

When I am asked as a Rabbi if I think it's a good idea for Jews to celebrate Valentine’s Day, my standard answer is, "Yes, we should celebrate love… every day of the year."

Love, for at least one of the major Talmudic Sages, represents the ultimate mitzvah. When a non-Jew asked Hillel to "teach the entire Torah on one foot,” i.e. to summarise its essence, his response was basically the idea implicit in "love your neighbour as yourself."

So, in a way, loving others it would appear is the summum bonnum of Judaism.

And yet, the way Valentine's Day is observed around the world leaves out one person worthy of love who is almost universally ignored. 

The verse in Leviticus (19:18) reads "love your neighbour as yourself." There are two instructions given here, and in very specific order. The verse is commonly used to remind us to love others, but we ignore, at our own peril, the first necessary step that has to be taken in order to accomplish the goal of loving others. Love your neighbour, the Bible teaches, as yourself.

It is one of the most profound psychological truths that the deep-seated hatred manifested by tyrants or criminals is in reality self-hatred turned outward. To be truly human, you must begin with self-acceptance and self-esteem. Only then can you move forward to a feeling of affection for others as well.

The Chasidic Rabbi of Kotzk was right when he witnessed a man beating another and said to his disciples, "See how even while performing an evil act, this Jew fulfils the words of the Holy Bible. He demonstrates that he loves his neighbour as much as he loves himself. We can only pray that he eventually comes to love himself, so that he may alter the way he treats others."

Barbara De Angelis, an American researcher on relationships and personal growth, put it well in saying that, "If you aren't good at loving yourself you'll have a difficult time loving anyone, since you'll resent the time and energy you give another person that you aren't even giving to yourself."

The flip side of this, of course, is also true: If you don't know how to love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to love you?

This is not to suggest a self-love that's narcissistic, but rather the kind of self-love made possible by self-respect. 

So, here's my suggestion for Valentine's Day and as all the other 364 days of the year. No, you needn’t send yourself a card declaring your love. But you might want to take a moment to live in a way that earns your deepest respect and admiration.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Levi and Chanie Wolff

(My thanks to Rabbi Benjamin Blech for some of the content in this article)