Loving Or Liking? (hebrew Insight)

Loving and Liking PeopleWhen people asked Jesus about the greatest of all commandments, he answered without hesitation. Jesus just like Rabbi Hillel before him affirmed that both of the commandments had to do with love – One was to be directed to the One True God and another to God’s imperfect people.

As you know, there are all kinds of people that we come across, some we like a lot, others we can tolerate, while others we can’t stand at all.

Right about now, you should be asking yourself why are we discussing how difficult it is “to like” some people and not what is really commended – “to love” them. Please, allow me to explain.

In many (if not most) languages there is a clear distinction between “liking” and “loving”. It is often said that God did not command us to like people, but to love them instead!

The problem is that there is no such distinction in Hebrew!!!

In Hebrew, one and the same word is used for a verb “to like” and “to love” – leAhov (לאהוב). To love means to like and to like means to love. There is no difference!

Recent studies in human behavior support this Hebrew notion. The research shows that we develop positive attitudes/feelings/likings towards the people that we did not previously enjoy, AFTER we begin to behave lovingly towards them.

What this university research shows is the same thing that we should have already known from Biblical Hebrew.

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Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

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  1. Geraldine Murphy

    Reply This Weeks Topic (LeHove) ( אםךםהק )
    Loving and Liking and More ! ! !
    Much has been written in recent times about liking and loving one’s fellow man. It is almost impossible these days to express love for anyone because it un-nerves people. People have become scared of expressing love in public we live in a culture where helping others , or even choosing the care profession as a career, is seen as a failure. Some people make great carers and they should embrace this talent .

    In one of the ten commandments Jesus askes people
    If you Love me keep my commandments.
    In Christianity the theme and very basis of the faith is Love .Jesus as a Jewish man did not exclude the (nobodies) in his ministry but he had a special solidarity with the poor and oppressed.This passage from Matthew which I choose has caused scholars much argument until Joachim. Jerimias published this brilliant little book (Jesus) Promise To The Nations.
    (Mt 10:5-6) Matthew also tells us he hesitated to help a Canaanite woman, i.e. to work among the Gentiles, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ he tells her,( Mt15:24) and (Mt 15:26 = Mk 7:2) In todays world Jesus would be considered a reactionary but nevertheless his approach to people and situation’s was fearless.

    Song Of Songs.
    The intoxification of Love
    In the title and prologue which is Solomon’s , such beauty of expression an passion, this series of love poems in which the lover and the loved are now united , now divided ,now sought, now found. The lover is called King 1:4 and 12 and Solomon, 3:7 and 9. his beloved is called ‘the Shulammite, 7:1, which title is thought related to the Shunammite of Davids time and Solomon’s.

    Reading the Hebrew scriptures is an enriching experience . One is connecting to the background of Jesus , these are the stories he knew, these are the songs he sang , These were the depths of wisdom revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘Life’ , the universe and everything.
    I would strongly recommend to anyone wishing to further explore the biblical understanding of Judaism and Christianity to try the biblical Hebrew language it is a great experience.

    Empathy as well as liking and loving one’s fellow man can make a difference to ones situation, by simply putting yourself in the shoes of another can present new solutions and ideas,

  2. R J Sim

    You say “In many (if not most) languages there is a clear distinction between “liking” and “loving”. It is often said that God did not command us to like people, but to love them instead!
    Comment: I’m not sure about the “many or most”. How would we know? Going outside of Indo-european and Semitic, it is not always true. Rendille of N.Kenya, for example lump ‘want/need/love/like’ in a single word, with a certain logic. The Cushtic languages of the Horn of Africa generally lump together like and love [and of course are part of the phylum that Hebrew also belongs to. I think I am right is claiming the same in a general way for the Bantu languages of Africa …

    Recent studies in human behavior support this Hebrew notion. The research shows that we develop positive attitudes/feelings/likings towards the people that we did not previously enjoy, AFTER we begin to behave lovingly towards them.
    Comment: Yes, I’m sure this is true — emotion follows behaviour, whereas the West sees emotion as the general source of behaviour … so we encourage ‘letting it all hang out’.

  3. Louie Modling

    You say that research shows that we develop positive feelings toward someone after we begin to behave lovingly towards them. My experience confirms this as follows: I have fasted many times, but had never done it strictly for someone else’s benefit. Recently I fasted for someone whom I was a little put out with, but after I fasted for them on several different occasions I found myself feeling very empathetic for them.

    I also had a similar experience with my wife (of many years). I took what Scripture says, “husband love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” From this I made myself be cheerful about doing things that she requested. Amazingly, after several weeks I started noticing that I felt more compassionate about her and more loving.

  4. flavia

    hello professor, im writing from argentina, i would like t know wether you could tell me where i could find the Hillel quotation, thanks

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This is not exact quatation but one that is also very interesting and connected to the one you are asking about:

      Our Rabbis taught: A certain gentile once came before Shammai and asked him: “How many Torot do you have?”

      “Two,” he replied: “the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.”

      “I believe you with respect to the Written, but not with respect to the Oral Torah. Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the Written Torah [only].

      Shammai scolded and rejected him in anger. When he went before Hillel, Hillel accepted him as a proselyte. On the first day, Hillel taught him, “Alef, bet, gimmel, dalet.” The following day Hillel reversed the letters.

      “But yesterday you did not teach them to me like this,” he protested.

      “Must you then not rely upon me? Then rely upon me with respect to the Oral Torah as well.”

      On another occasion it happened that a certain gentile came before Shammai and said to him: “Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”

      Thereupon Shammai repulsed him with the builder’s cubit that was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary; go and learn it.”

      On another occasion it happened that a certain gentile was passing behind a Beit Hamidrash, when he heard the voice of a teacher reciting: “And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod.”

      The gentile said: “For whom are these?”

      “For the High Priest,” he was told.

      Then that gentile said to himself, “I will go and become a proselyte, that I may be appointed a High Priest.” So he went before Shammai and said to him: “Make me a proselyte on condition that you appoint me a High Priest.”

      Shammai repulsed him with the builder’s cubit that was in his hand. He then went before Hillel, who made him a proselyte.

      Hillel said to him: “Can any man be made a king but he who knows the arts of government? Go and study the arts of government.”

      The gentile went and read. When he came to, “and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death,” he asked, “To whom does this verse apply?”

      “Even to David, King of Israel,” was the answer.

      Thereupon that proselyte said to himself a fortiori argument. If Israel, who are called sons of the Omnipresent, and who in His love for them He designated them “Israel is my son, my firstborn,” yet it is written of them, “and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death,” how much more so a mere proselyte, who comes with his staff and traveling bag.

      Then he went before Shammai and said to him: “Am I then eligible to be a High Priest. Is it not written in the Torah ‘and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death?'” He went before Hillel and said to him, “O humble Hillel. Blessings rest on your head for bringing me under the wings of the Shekhina!”

      Some time later the three met in one place. They said: “Shammai’s impatience sought to drive us from the world, but Hillel’s humility brought us under the wings of the Shekhina. (Shabbat 31a)

  5. U. Haller

    Nevertheless, the famous mizwa ואהבת לרעך כמוך (Lev 19,18 »you shall love your neighbor as yourself«) is certainly a fundamental rule of the Bible, but hard to understand. Maybe Ramban gives a good explanation. He declares that it is impossible for all to feel literally the same love for others that they feel for themselves. The Bible does not demand that; in fact, if someone is in danger, his own life comes before that of someone else. Rather, G’d demands that we want others to have the same degree of success and prosperity that we want for ourselves and that we treat others with the utmost respect and consideration. Are there other possible meanings for the expression ואהבת ?