Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rules and Regulations: Part 2 – People and Groups

So in the very middle of VaYikra/Leviticus, in Chapter 19 we find the words “veahavta lereacha kamocha” – on one hand a simple and lovely platitude of “love your neighbor/friend/the other as yourself” but in practicality such a hard principle to utilize and show to others. It is around the center point of this notion which continues with the words “Because I am the Lord your G-d” that we are to formulate our lives as Jews, and hopefully as human beings. It is on this simply worded and most complicated actuality that we are to think of Torah in our lives and the many details contained therein. In other words, as I have discussed at other points, we are COMMANDED to be nice and to love… but how can this be? Yes, we can set all types of rules about setting limits on Shabbat, and how we treat our animals (as discussed in my last post) but to command one to LOVE THE OTHER…. This is simply counter-intuitive and really difficult to wrap our heads around generally.

Both before and after this proclamation, we are in fact given very practical ways to enact this ideal – We are not to curse the deaf, because after all they cannot hear and respond. We are not to place a stumbling block in front of the blind, for they will trip and fall and harm their body and much more in terms of shame. We are to judge fairly and not show favoritism for one who brings a case, whether they are rich or poor. We are not to hate the other in our heart. We are to save a specified amount of our earnings for those who are less fortunate…. And so much else! In short we are to act with dignity and fairness towards the others, TOWARDS ALL OTHERS, and in doing so, we bring a conscious presence of G-d into our world. THIS is what we mean when we say we should LOVE, that is, consider and show concern for the other. The rooted word ALEPH-HEH-VET – the word for OHEV in Hebrew actually means so much more than the word LOVE that we generally attach to it. It evokes a sense of trust and congeniality – that is the positive feelings that we are able to and have the capacity to evoke in others. We are NOT talking about romantic or even relational love per se, but rather filial love, in which we find ways to connect with others in our lives and reality.

I would propose that this is the meaning of the CENTRAL RULE OF TORAH, the one that is often cited in so many texts as being the pivotal and foundational rule of Jewish life and living – that we are to connect with, care for, trust and show compassion and concern for others as we would want others to show for us and that this is G-d’s design of and the very reason for the creation of the world.

It is within this context that I come to better understand the purpose of the myriad of details and various components of them found in our Torah and vast tomes of Jewish law as discussed in my last post (which I invite you to look at again for context).

Such a simple and agreeable message, and yet how short we fall of achieving it. My husband, Ken, and I just returned from Israel and while we were able to spend some time communing with nature in the Galil and Golan, experiencing and enjoying so much art – both man-made and G-d-made in the hills of Tzefat, and spending time with family and friends, the highlight was watching our wonderful daughter Talie graduate from Ben Gurion Medical School of International Health. We observed this incredible group of talented newly minted medical doctors – they were Jewish and from so many other religions and thought systems, they were from different ethnic and regional groupings throughout the world, and in watching their interaction, I was struck by the many different displays of showing the same concern for the other that you would want/need for yourself. About 40 young people came together four years ago to achieve a shared goal – to become doctors. They would acquire many skill sets and knowledge pockets regarding the tiniest details of the many facets of the human body and how it works and how it needs to be healed as necessary. This vast font of knowledge is clearly comparable to the many details of living discussed in Rules and Regulations: Part 1 (the last post already referenced). BUT most important, we witnessed love and concern and compassion and were privileged to hear this message loud and clear about touching and being touched by others, especially when there is tension and a need for healing. This was the theme of the student speaker (who happened to be Talie) as well as the keynote speaker. The clear message was that in being so wrapped up with the details of doctoring, we must not forget the central part of healing and caring – seeing and understanding the other as we want to be seen and understood.

I was heartened (both physically and spiritually speaking) watching these wonderful young doctors. My prayer for them is that they will always remember that the details of living properly and healing proficiently begin with feeling and caring for the other as one would want for oneself. My prayer for all of us in our world is to remember this important focus of living and learning in our daily lives – that begins with our heart and soul and the very essence of who we are as human beings.

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