Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor

Thou Shalt Love Thy Neighbor
The following paragraph is from Dr. Asher Eder’s book The Star of David, which was published in 1987 in English in Jerusalem by Rubin Mass Ltd. The publication here is courtesy of Oren Mass
This version includes corrections and new materials that do not appear on the printed version
Men often think that, in order to enjoy satisfactory relationships with our fellow human beings, we need only obey the commandment to love one's neighbor. If it were to be depicted graphically, such a relationship could be described by a line connecting two dots A and B, which would stand for a man and his neighbor. This design adequately reflects the current reality of most people's daily lives.
Seldom do we realize that the Torah says not merely "thou shalt love thy neighbor", or even "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself", but rather makes a very important addition to this phrase, which in its entirety is rendered:"...and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself - I am the Lord."
This wording has several implications:
a) The word "and" at the beginning of the phrase links it to what comes before. So in order to truly understand the full meaning of the passage, one should read the preceding paragraph, i.e. Leviticus 10:1-18. Verse 18 - and particularly the last phrase of this last verse, "I am the Lord" - appears then as a summing up of the previous verses.
b) The term thy neighbor (and more so the Hebrew term לרעך instead of (את רעך implies that A should not only try to see B as his neighbor, but rather that he should act in a way that B can see and accept A as his neighbor. This holds true when giving or receiving charity, as well as in the other aspects of life, such as business relationships, employer-employee relations, etc.
c) The term "as thyself" includes both an instruction and a statement. No one can love another more, or in a different way than, one's own Self. The recognition of and attunement to one's essential or Divine Self brings about the right attitude and behavior towards others.
Indeed, love of neighbor as enjoined by the Torah is not practiced by choosing any particular object of love, but is expressed "in all thy ways" - by one's general attitude or orientation of character. We must, says the Torah, come to see every other individual as our neighbor. True love of one's neighbor can therefore not be restricted to members of one's own family, people, creed, or nation. On the other hand, one who loves or blesses another, loves and blesses himself; for every human being is, in his or her essence, created "in the image of God", and thus are in essence one.
d) In order to truly achieve this end, the Torah elevates the simple A-B relationship described earlier into a triangular - and uplifting! - one by adding "I am the Lord". By this the Torah says, among other things, that love of God and true love of one's neighbor cannot be separated.
This could well be depicted by our symbol, the Star of David, with its two equilateral triangles.
e) The commandment to love one's neighbor is one of the very few which aims not only at a mere doing or not doing; it involves the heart as well. Remember, the preceding verse (17) says: "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart," and so the ending of verse 18 "I am the Lord" links both verses to the commandment to love the Lord "with all thy heart". Head and heart, intellect and feeling, ought to be united in the Lord.
Some graphic designs may help demonstrate this point.
The many possible human relationships mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, would have to be depicted by a number of A-B lines in random directions, according to the respective position of each individual.
But if a particular individual (A) makes himself a neighbor to B as a demonstration of his love for God, the energy he thus creates must be depicted by a triangle.
If we also depict B's energy field by a triangle (that is, if in particular B, like this particular A, makes himself a neighbor as a demonstration of his love for God), the two triangles representing A and B will join harmoniously in a six-pointed star, with the center of each in congruence - representing the centrality of the concept "I am the Lord" in the life of each individual.
And if every individual were to replace the simple "I-thee" way of relating to the world (which relates in the near-chaos of figure 46) with the "I-thee-He" relationship, the human race would find a common center, and as a result, peace, joy, and welfare..
So we see that mutual centredness on the Lord can unify the entire race, but this by no means implies uniformity. Each individual would retain and express his own character. How different were, for example, the personalities of the three Patriarchs, or of Moses, David, Isaiah, and Amos; or of Hillel and Shammai; of Rabbi Akiva, Ibn Gavirol, Maimonides, the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rabbi A.Y. Hacohen Kook (or of King Cyrus, Emperor Ashoka, Guru Nanak, Gelal-u-din Rumi, Sant Kirpal Singh and Albert Schweitzer of the non-Jewish world), to mention only a very few of all those who focused their hearts on the One Lord.
Indeed, as each in his own way strives to attain an ever-closer likeness of the Lord, each can, and should, fully express a specific aspect of the infinite deity while leaving space for every other individual's expression, and without imposing upon anyone else's existence.
As a pious Rabbi, Susia said:"When finally before the throne of Divine Judgment, I will surely not be asked: Rabbi Susia, why have you not been Moses? Rather, I will be asked, Rabbi Susia, why havn't you been Rabbi Susia?"
Another famous saying which demonstrates our point is credited to Rabbi Hillel. When asked by a certain Gentile whether he could explain the essence of the entire Torah while standing on one leg, the rabbi answered: "Do not do unto others what is hateful unto you. The rest [of the Torah] is only commentary. Now go and learn [this commentary]!"
Indeed, we need to learn how to love properly in order not to do harm but to do good - be it in child care, in our marital relations, in helping the wounded, or on the spiritual path.
What is more, since many of the Torah's commandments concern the relationship between Man and God, it is obvious that Rabbi Hillel, in his answer to the Gentile, included them in the one which he paraphrased. This means that even those parts of the Torah which have to do only with the worship and glory of God are ultimately meant for the true physical and spiritual well-being of Humankind. The glory of God lies not in the death of the wicked, but in the well-being and peace of men.
This understanding is also expressed in the commandment: "Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue." The question arises, why does the Scripture repeat the word righteousness? Rashi, an outstanding Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, says in his commentary on the passage that a judge is thereby commanded to carefully weigh the merit in the arguments of both the claimant and the defendant. However, the ideal is neither to go to court, nor to be brought to court. We need have no fear of appearing before either a court of earthly judges or the Heavenly Court if we respect not only our own rights but also the rights of our neighbors. "Let your friend's honor and property be as dear to you as your own" is one of the sages' many instructions on the subject.
On the other hand, if billions of human beings pay mere lip service to the existence of the One God while actually remaining centered each on his or her own egotistical position, the triangles representing human relationships would look distorted, off-kilter or in opposition, for there would be no common, unifying center.
This off-centerdness is indeed the reason why even acts of supposed love - be it between man and woman, parents and children, neighbors, or political and religious groups - so often produce discord, quarrel and strife. Obviously, the healing lies in the proper understanding and practice of love.
The two equilateral triangles of the six-pointed star represent the ideal of harmony and peace between two different people (and between every "I" and every "thee").
Harmony and peace are achieved by focusing on God the Creator who alone can truly be called Love.
Let us in this context consider a slogan very much in vogue nowadays: “Make love, not war”. This idea, modern as it looks, traces in fact back to Alexander the Great. In an attempt to overcome the centuries old hostilities between Greece and Persia, he ordered his officers after Persia’s defeat to make love with, and even marry, daughters of the Persian nobility. Yet, this lovely idea of his did not work. Not only that most of the Persian ladies were not very fond of Greeks, quarrels broke out soon about such “daily problems” like heritage; who has a say; in what culture and fashion to lead one’s life; etc. Moreover, his huge empire fell apart immediately after his death, and the three evolving main claimants for rulership clashed one with the other. And the evolving Seleucid Empire clashed soon also with its Jewish subjects over the question “human liberties or Torah life” (and was defeated by the Hashmoneans).

Dr. Asher Eder's notes to this chapter:

In Hebrew, the word אהב, to love, commands an accusative case, as in other languages. However, in Lev.19:18 (and 19:34), it is not followed by the preposition את but by ל, the latter corresponding to a dative or sometimes genitive case. Thus, the most accurate literal translation of that term would be "and thou shalt love to thy neighbor", meaning thou shalt become a neighbor to the other one. The famous parable of the Samaritan in Luke 10:25 plays on this dative case.

Love of neighbor as a general attitude is in fact expressed by the Hebrew wording of that commandment. In ואהבת , ve'ahavta (usually rendered "and thou shalt love"), the ו , wav, stands not only for "and", but the whole passage is to be understood as: "If you behave in accordance with what you are told in Levit. chapter 19 verses 1-17, then thou wilt have loved thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord".
To behave in this way means that love of neighbor is a continuous process. In fact, it is an expression of constant God-consciousness. The Hebrew language expresses this by the ending ה, heh, in the word אהבה , ahavah, which could be interpreted as "oriented to love" (the ending ה, heh, can point out a direction). Also Eric Fromm, in his book the Art of Loving (Unwin Books, London, ISBN 0-04-157002-2), sees the love of neighbor as an attitude or orientation of character (see pp.38,46). Moreover, in gematria, the word כמוך = 86), , as thyself, equals the word God (אלהים = 86) from which we can also deduce the inner connection between the commandment to love God and the commandment to love our neighbor.

Cf. Job 42:10, where the term רע , rea, neighbor, is applied to Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamthide, i.e. to members of other peoples. Likewise Ex.11:2, where this term is applied to the Egyptians. The Hebrew word רע can also be read ra, and would then mean bad, evil. Thus the phrase ואהבת לרעךwould allow also the following interpretations:
As beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, likewise the evil we are so apt to see in others is in fact within us (cf. Prov.27:19). It should be overcome by developing an attitude of that love as described in note 3.
If one comes against us as an enemy, and we remain in the attitude of love, we may hope to change the hostility into friendship (cf. Prov.16:7).

Interestingly enough, the numerical value of the verse "and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, I am the Lord", which comes to 907, is the same as that of the verse "and thou halt love the Lord thy God" (907).
Moreover, the numerical value of the word אהבה , ahavah, love, is 13. Mutual love of neighbors renders a numerical value of 26 (2x13) which is also the numerical value of the Name of the Lord (5+6+5+10); i.e. in mutual love, the Lord is present. Of course, His love is always there; it wants to evoke our love of Him and His Creation. This is beautifully brought out by the gematria of the Jewish confession: יי אחד, Ad,onai ehad, the Lord (is) one. The numerical value of אחד, ehad, is 13, like that of love.
If we transcribe the term יי אחד into its numerical equivalents, it reads: 13 26. We could interpret this as "the Lord is love". This is one side of the coin, or one triangle of the hexagram, the other serving as a symbol for Man's love, which is required to form the hexagram, as a symbol of union in love.

The Hebrew word for righteousness, is closely related to zedekah, alms, mercy, charity. The word zedakah could also be translated "towards righteousness".

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