By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
In last week’s Torah Parsha (ACHAREI MOT), we read about how, as a community, we atone for an enumeration of sins and Transgressions, during the Yom Kippur service. This week’s Parsha (KEDOSHIM) begins with the Lord speaking to Moses: “Bring the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, you shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy” (1).
Following this profound challenge to attain a level of holiness, akin to that of our Lord is a ‘Holiness Code’, which the Israelites must embrace. The ‘Holiness Code’ is comprised of an itemization, which includes the Ten Commandments, as well as other ethical, legal, and ritual imperatives. Most of these mitzvot (i.e. laws) are repeated in various portions of the Five Books of the Torah; and are somewhat self-explanatory, particularly to our ancestors, who lived in ancient times.
However, there is one directive included within this list of laws, which our sages consider to be the apex and central core of the Torah (2); despite the dozens of contradictory critiques and interpretations of this singular commandment:
“You shall love your neighbor, as you love yourself” (3). We are all mortals, imbued with unique strengths and talents; as well as character flaws, emerging from distinctive experiences in our lives. It is logical to contend that individuals will typically be drawn to others, with whom they share much in common; and, enjoy the pleasure of their encounters. There may be others within our community, who we truly dislike, for a myriad of reasons. This leads us to wonder how we can obey God’s commandment to ‘love’ these people, as ourselves.
The most logical response is to consider that the act of learning in Judaism is conceived as an active debate, a form of a gladiatorial contest of the mind. Once we engage a person, who we truly dislike, in a conversation to learn about their backgrounds, experiences, disappointments, anxieties, as well as their pleasures we may have an epiphany of understanding. We may realize that we were judging this person wrongly; and, on a superficial level.
Undoubtedly, this is a formidable task. It requires even more strength of character, if we believed that we were offended, insulted, or harmed in any way by this particular individual. Fortunately, what enables the Torah to be so impressive is that it both articulates the highest of ideals; and, at the same time, speaks to us as human beings.
Each perceived ‘enemy’, who we can convert to a beloved friend, brings us one step higher on the ladder to holiness.
(1) LEVITICUS (19:1-2)
(2) Nahmanides, Rashi, Maimonides, Hillel, et al.
(3) LEVITICUS (19:18)