Love is not solely a feeling, but an enacted emotion. We have to act out our love for it to be real, and yet we rarely ascribe our actions to good feelings. “I hit him because I was hurt,” is a commonplace; or, “I lied because I was scared.” But how often do we say, “I gave because I was grateful” or, “I helped out because I felt joyous?”
Judaism teaches that we are best known by what we do and that each mitzvah increases our tendency to more goodness. So when we feel an impulse to do something kind, it strengthens the moral muscles to act.
The world needs our actions more than our intention. Many needs will not respond to good wishes but can be fulfilled with good deeds. So the system of mitzvot is both a training ground and a solution: If we used the positive nature of our emotions to act as we excuse our misdeeds by negative emotions, we would improve ourselves and help fix our world. Delight, too, is a spur. Don’t keep your joy to yourself. Don’t hoard your love. Spread it over others. Now that’s a mitzvah.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.
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