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Parashat 04/26/2011

Parashat Kedoshim

by Robert Rabinoff

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely reprove your fellow, and do not bear sin because of him.  Do not take revenge, and do not bear a grudge against any one of your people; love your neighbor as yourself, I am H”!  (19:17-18)

All Israel are responsible for one another.  (Sanhedrin 27b)

Rabbi Akiva comments on “love your neighbor as yourself” that “this is the great principle of Torah.”  It would seem that there are other candidates out there: Sh’ma Yisrael, H” Elokeinu, H” Echad – the Unity of Gd, or Bereishit bara Elokim – Gd is the Creator.  Why does R. Akiva pick this one?


If we look at the series of expressions in our two verses, we see one main point, expressed in different ways, but culminating in our great principle.  This main point is that Gd wants us to become a unified spiritual community, completely integrated in Gd’s service.  In other words, our lives must be aimed at recreating the situation that obtained when we stood at Mt. Sinai “as one man with one heart” (Rashi to Shemot 19:2).  In this unified state of our collective consciousness, we are able to apprehend a level of truth that is not available to us individually.  How are we to do this?


On the surface level we start by training ourselves to avoid negativity – we don’t hate our brother in our hearts.  It may be that in the course of interacting with others that misunderstandings will arise and feelings will get hurt.  Torah tells us not to hold these feelings in to fester, but to approach the other party and work out the differences.  If not, we will be bearing sin – literally carrying the weight of our sin and the other person’s sin inside ourselves, where it will simply eat away at us and at our relationships.  If we take revenge overtly, or even bear a grudge silently inside, we create dis-integration in our society.  Rather, Torah tells us, we must love our neighbor as ourselves – just as we love ourselves unconditionally, just as we are, so we must love others unconditionally, just as they are (Alter of Slabodka).  Freud identified love (eros) as the force that integrates diversity into a greater harmonious whole; when we love our neighbor as ourselves we become integrated into a larger, social whole, until ultimately we do stand “as one man with one heart.”


I believe there is a deeper level on which we can understand this same progression.  Another meaning of tochachah (reproof) is correcting other people’s behavior when it has gotten off the track.  This is why giving tochachah is such a terribly delicate issue, to the point where it is highly doubtful that there is anyone around who knows how to give reproof properly – that is, in a way that will not embarrass the other person, but rather is offered with such love and sincerity that he will accept it in the spirit that it is offered.  But who are we to correct other people’s behavior?  Certainly, as Rashi points out elsewhere, one can’t point out a blemish to someone else when one is carrying the same blemish.  Nevertheless, Torah implies that if we do not help others to better themselves, it is like hating them in our heart, and we bear sin on their account.

Why is that?  Our Sages often liken the Jewish people to a body, and every Jew to a part of that body.  If one part is out of whack, the whole body suffers.  This is true on a physical level, but even more so on a spiritual level.  If one Jew sins, it taints his soul primarily, but that stain spreads throughout the entire community, lessening everyone’s connection with Gd.  If we fail to protest, say if a Jewish Community Center stays open on Shabbat, then we are all complicit in Shabbat desecration.  The collective consciousness of that community, of which we are a part and which influences our thoughts and our perceptions, is less integrated and less connected to Gd as a result of this decision.  That influence on us might be described as bearing sin on account of the others in the community.  Our Sages express this principle in the quote above from the Talmud – all Israel are responsible for one another – why, because we are all intimately connected to one another spiritually.


We can take this consideration further.  If we are to love our neighbor as ourself, we must first learn to perceive that neighbor in the same terms as we perceive ourself.  We must grow to recognize that we are both expressions of the same inner Divinity, in the same way that the two Cheruvim were simply two expressions of the same piece of gold from which the kaporet (Ark-Cover) was fashioned.  Though they appeared different on the surface, on the underlying level they were both pure gold, the same block of pure gold, fashioned into two forms.  In the same way, we must come first to recognize that we are expressions of the pure, unchanging, infinite value of being that underlies the whole creation.  Once that is established on the level of the mind, it can begin to overtake our perception, on the level of the senses as well, until we begin to perceive everything in our surroundings, both animate and inanimate, as expressions of the same basic “substance” from which all creation comes.  When we can evaluate our neighbor’s being in the same terms as our own being, then it is completely natural that we will love our neighbor as ourself.


Perhaps this is why R. Akiva called this the great principle of Torah.  It describes a sublime state of perception and emotion where we see all the diversity of creation as ultimately unified and integrated at its depths.  On this basis we can bring love, harmony and integration from the depths to the surface of life.  It is the responsibility of every member of the Jewish people to rise to this level of life.


Pirke Avot

Once again we begin our study of Pirke Avot, the Chapter of the Fathers, the source of Jewish Ethics.  There are 6 chapters in Pirke Avot, and we read one chapter a week from after Pesach until Rosh HaShanah, doubling up two chapters a week as needed during the last cycle.  There are numerous commentaries on Pirke Avot.  I recently came across my copy of R. Reuven Bulka’s commentary which is published by Jason Aronson; my edition is from 1993, and I’ll be leaning on that over the next few months Gd willing.


Pirke Avot, Chapter 1

Mishnah 2

Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the Great Assembly.  He used to say: The world stands on three things – on Torah, on Sacred Service and on the practice of lovingkindness.

R. Bulka points out that Torah is what Gd has given to human beings, and the Sacred Service is what human beings “give” to Gd (in the form of offerings).  The practice of lovingkindness is what we give to one another.  It is our way of emulating Gd; just as he is giving and merciful, sustaining us every moment of our existence, so we are charged to act in the same way with one another.  On an deeper level, just as Gd is merciful to us because He sees that we are, in our essential nature, infinite and unbounded, just as He is (although His infinity is still infinitely bigger than our infinity!) so we are charged to learn to see everyone and everything in terms of its infinite worth.  When one sees one’s neighbor as oneself, then one can love one’s neighbor as oneself.  At that point practicing lovingkindness is the natural result.  Gd must give the Torah, and the Kohanim are responsible for the sacred service, but this last leg is for all of us to do and to enjoy the reward!