Every once in a while I like to wander back to the main path from the various byways I tend to wander down as I walk the path of Torah. So this week, I'd like to muse on three little words that one sage considers the great teaching of our Torah. Words that have been spoken about many times, by many commentators. An idea that has been examined from seemingly every conceivable angle.
I am speaking, of course, of Leviticus 19:18 - v'ahavata l'reiakha kamokha. Love your neighbor as yourself.
A seemingly simple idea, yet one, as scholar Richard Elliot Friedman points out in his commentary, that stands out as unique among all the rest of the Torah, which is otherwise so focused, he says, on distinctions between things, and yet here instructs us to observe an equivalency in regard to relationships between human beings.
There is no doubt that each of us is unique-in many ways. And thus we are clearly distinctive. Yet we are, each of us, b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of Gd. And we create new life through the merger of body and soul, through an act in which distinctions are often lost.
When, I wonder, are we separate and distinct in Gd's eyes, and when are we all of a kind? And how does that affect our relationship to Gd? Is Gd more receptive to us when we are distinct and single, or when we are simply a part of a great whole?
Does the Torah make such an important point about making distinctions in part to teach us that our greatest gift and our greatest ambition is to be distinct yet not distinct at one and the same time? Do we recognize this gift and use it to its fullest potential?
Am I to love my neighbor as I love myself because my neighbor is like me, unlike me, or because my neighbor is both at the same time? I submit that the latter may hold an important key. I think of the situation in Israel. Palestinian and Israeli- so alike and yet so different. How do we bring them (and ourselves) past the perverse corruption of v'ahavta l'reiakha kamokha, which is hate your neighbor as your neighbor hates you? Or worse, the even more perverse hate your neighbor as you hate yourself.
Understanding that we are different yet all the same seems one way to bring greater peace between neighbors. But this simplistic formula seems to fail time and time again. Is that so perhaps because we fail to truly internalize this concept? Is it so because we have a hard time loving our neighbor when we think they hate us?
I've no quick or easy answers to these questions, but I am glad I have raised them for myself and for you. That's how I show my love for my neighbor-by engaging them in the same search for meaning as I engage in. If we could all but work together, yet at the same time draw upon the differences and uniquenesses we have, we might have a chance at finding some answers we all could live with. Ken y'hi ratson. May this be Gd's will. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu. May this be our will.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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