“When I truly love, what matters is the relationship itself, not the benefit I derive from it.
The most exalted love is entirely other-oriented:
It is the love I have for nature, which I cannot change or own.
And it is Jacob’s love for Rachel, which endured through seven years, and longer (whether a few days or another seven years), because it was the fact of the relationship that mattered, not any tangible benefit to him.
If genuine love is so demanding, can we ever fulfill the mitzvah of loving our neighbor as ourselves?
Love may be too difficult, but compassion is not.
To be compassionate–and this is the exact meaning of the word–is to feel the feelings of the Other.
That is something we can do, on a personal level, and even on a wider level.
No one can demand that people should love poor people far away, but compassion is something we can have.
And if we have this feeling of compassion, we may even do something good for them, even if it will not pay off for us immediately, or even at any future time.
Compassion is a lot like love that way, because it is possible that there will be no personal benefit; the difference is that it is easier to achieve.
Genuine love is something that may always be just out of reach, but compassion is in our hands.
If we have no compassion, we become emotionally hardened and unable to have any kind of feeling, because loss of compassion is the loss of a component of the human psyche.
If we do not act on compassion, we become mechanized beings–like robots, but worse, because they do not have our physical weaknesses and limitations.
Having compassion is a matter of keeping our humanity.
It is perhaps something we need for ourselves.
We need it in order to keep living as human beings.
Otherwise, we will destroy everything that is not useful, that is not productive, that does not pay off.
Then we will destroy the whole world, because when people are behaving without compassion, they cease to be human beings, and the world itself has no meaning.
So let us not be so concerned about love.
Let us speak about compassion, about feeling what others feel.
Perhaps that can improve the world.”
From a talk by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz given at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion, January 30, 2007