Spencer Stoff’s Bar Mitzvah – June 12, 2010 – Queens, New York.
Granpa Sheldon Stoff’s Address:
I am now eighty years old so I give myself permission to voice some very heartfelt opinions.
The first day after my own Bar Mitzvah, I asked my Rabbi, “When will you teach me religion.” He seemed shocked at my question. Actually, that was the day I stopped going to Temple. I had attended Hebrew School six days a week for six years. I had learned reading, writing, ethics, and history—all of which I could have learned at the public school across the street.
Judaism is more than learning out of a book! Judaism is more than book learning! In Book 3 of the Hebrew Scriptures—Leviticus (the law of the priests), we find several important commandments. Suggestions these are, yet there is one which is elevated to law: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” These words are the essence of Judaism as well as the essence of all western religions. The rest is but commentary,often in opposition to the very essence claimed.
When speaking of a very deep love, far beyond the comprehension of many, we realize that this love is the primary force of the universe—yes the primary force of the universe. On the physical level, love, compassion and concern for others are our greatest source of happiness. Not only is this love a primary source of happiness for individuals, but it is at the very heart of the good nation and good religion.
Through love and kindness to others, the heart opens and you rest in peace, at home, and in your country.
Love and compassion are not biased. They are filled with equanimity for both friend and foe. You cannot expand your inner love if any bias is to be found. To quote the late chief rabbi of then Palestine, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: “Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself, on the contrary, it strengthens it.”
Another factor in expanding our love is the need to develop patience. Without patience you could not develop love because you would be subject to irritability so often. In developing your love, freed from bias, you will find it to be the basis of human rights. You do not solve problems with anger. It is love that smoothes the playing field.
Compassion, flowing from love, is the spirit out of which we bring happiness to others, and to ourselves. We awaken our essence in a very deep love. Love can even transform anger. My wife has a saying which she repeats at bedtime and upon awakening, “Only love is real.”
The sole source of peace in the family, in the country, and in the world is love and compassion. It is that vital part of our being that we want to expand each day. Again, from Rabbi Kook: “The love for people must be alive in the heart and soul, a love for all people and a love for all nations, expressing itself in a desire for their spiritual and material advancement.”
Professor Martin Buber said, “Feelings are ‘entertained.’ Loves comes to pass. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in his love. That is no metaphor, but the actual truth. Love does not cling to the “I” in such a way as to have the Thou only for its ‘content,’ its object, but love is between I and Thou…In the eyes of him who takes his stand in love, and gazes out of it, men are cut free from their entanglement in bustling activity…Love is the responsibility of an I for a Thou.”
Our much valued “reason” or intellect (the intellect is the world of separation) is but one necessary step toward the unity of the I-Thou. There will come this moment wherein reason will be encompassed by love. Wholeness (and holiness) will be our lasting reward.
When we define religion, any religion in the present or future, let us speak of love, charity, gentleness, tolerance and kindliness. Religion must not be allowed to become a barrier to growth and spiritual maturity. It must instead become the motivator and the sacred stepping stone. True religion, by this definition, is spiritual religion.
With our inner life filled with love, we can now act out of true compassion toward others. Yes, love binds together “I” and “Thou.” We realize our spiritual unity. We are one self in all beings. We are oneness in all that is—bound together in love.
Each of us is a leaf on the tree of life. To live in reality is to know that the leaf is part of the tree and part of everything which can be beheld.
The I-It relationship is one of manipulation and separation and also defines itself as “me and not me.” In reality, maturity is the I-Thou, forever bound together in love, forever part of everything that it can behold. The world of spirituality is the actuality of unity, of oneness. That is where a true religion takes you. All barriers have parted, all husks have been removed, blindness is no more. All is in Oneness. It is to that gateway that the true religion, the spiritual religion, will take us.
June 12, 2010