Is there a difference between love and respect?

Friday, 2 February, 2018 - 4:13 am

Is there a difference between love and respect? Do all kinds of love necessarily come with respect?

At the end of parashat Yitro, the Torah says, “You shall not ascend My Altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be uncovered upon it.” In other words, there shouldn’t be steps going up to the altar, because climbing them will make the cohen take big steps, thus degrading the stones, the Altar stones. Rashi learns from this the importance of behaving decently: “This is a kal vachomer: If about stones, which have no awareness to be upset about being degraded by others, the Torah said that since one needs them, one should not behave disrespectfully towards them, how much more so your fellow, who is in the image of your Creator and is particular about being degraded!”

But, wait a minute; why does one have to learn to respect people through a kal vachomer learned from the stones of the Altar? After all, we have a pasuk in the Torah that says, “Love your fellow like yourself”. In other words, not only are we supposed to respect our fellow, but we should love him. Is there a difference between love and respect?

In my opinion, it is possible to love someone truly and wholeheartedly, and still not respect him enough. Love is a feeling, whereas respect and honor are mainly a practical issue. As Chazal say (Kiddushin 31b) about the pasuk “Honor your father and your mother.” They ask: “What is honoring?” and they answer: “Help him with all his needs, feed him, give him something to drink. And, if necessary, dress and cover him, take him in and out.” It is interesting that sometimes, particularly with very close friends and family members, not to mention spouses, when the love is greatest and open, the basic respect is missing.

Perhaps that is the reason that “Honor your father and your mother”, which seems on the face of it an obvious thing, is part of the Ten Commandments. Because it is easy to love, but one has to make an effort to honor and respect.

Perhaps this is the explanation of why the students of Rabbi Akiva – the same Rabbi Akiva who said, “Love your fellow as yourself – that is a great rule in the Torah” – did not behave respectfully towards each other. Because love and respect are two separate things. They definitely loved each other, but their respect for one another was lacking.

So Rashi comes and says: Listen well. The Torah here is demanding that we show respect for mindless stones – stones! We should learn from this a kal vachomer and honor and respect people who do have minds and are likely to be particular and be hurt if one degrades them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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