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D'var Torah - Perashat Kedoshim

04/26/2018 05:05:00 PM

Apr26

Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla

This is the week when we read the commandment that is the central commandment in the Torah: “V’ahavta lireacha kamocha” - thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. It is in the second perasha which we will read on Shabbat.

I have no doubt that this commandment is by far the most difficult commandment in the Torah to keep. Kashrut is an easy commandment. All it takes is some discipline and some self-control. Shabbat is an easy commandment to keep. All it takes is some appreciation of the holiness of time. Tsedaka is an easy commandment to keep. All is takes is some awareness of how many blessings we have, and how few blessings other people have.

But loving your neighbor as yourself? That is a hard commandment! It is easy to love mankind. That doesn’t cost anything. But to love my neighbor? The one who has loud parties late at night? The one who steps on my grass? The one whose radio blares when I am trying to sleep? There is no doubt in my mind that loving your neighbor as yourself is the most difficult mitzvah in the Torah by far.

Let me share this story, actually a parable. It comes from Marc Rosenstein. He writes a column about life in Israel that appears every Wednesday in the series called “Ten Minutes of Torah” that is published by the Union for Reform Judaism. This is the parable:

Once the Chilazoner Rebbe was sitting with his Hassidim around the holiday table, and he told them this story:

Once I was driving along the highway and a car passed me and cut in quickly in front of me, cutting me off. “Damn Arab kids,” I said. “They have no respect for the laws of the land, even for the traffic laws. They whine about having no rights, but they refuse to accept responsibility.” A few minutes later, I found myself stopped at a red light next to the car that had passed me. The driver was Ultra-Orthodox.

Once I was driving along the highway and a car passed me and cut in quickly in front of me, cutting me off. “Damn Ultra-Orthodox,” I said. “They have no respect for the laws of the land, not even for the traffic laws. They think they are holier than the rest of us, that they can run the country as they want, forcing everyone else onto the shoulder.” A few minutes later, I found myself stopped at a red light next to the car that had passed me. The driver was a settler.

Once I was driving along the highway and a car passed me and cut in quickly in front of me, cutting me off. “Damn settlers,” I said. They have no respect for the laws of the land, not even for the traffic laws. They think they can hold the rest of us hostages to their messianic mishigas - driving us all the disaster.” A few minutes later, I found myself stopped at a red light next to the car that had passed me. I recognized the driver from his picture in the business section of the paper, a prominent lawyer from Herzeliya.

Once I was driving along the highway and a car passed me and cut in quickly in front of me, cutting me off. “Damn North Tel Aviv snobs,” I said. “They have no respect for the laws of the land, not even for the traffic laws. They throw around their money and their power, and treat the whole country as if it were their own private estate.” A few minutes later, I found myself stopped at a red light next to the car that had passed me. The driver was my neighbor.

Once I was driving along the highway, in a hurry to pick up my kid at the Acco train station. I passed a whole lineup of cars moving irritatingly slowly, and then I had to squeeze back into the right lane before the West Acco exit. A traffic cop pulled me over after the light. “What, did I do something wrong?” I asked him incredulously. “Are you kidding?” he sneered. “You just cut off that whole line of cars - an Arab, an Ultra-Orthodox, a settler, a lawyer, and a local. You almost caused a serious accident.”

“Wow!” I said. “I didn’t see them. I really didn’t see them.”

There was silence at the table as the Hassidim contemplated their master’s deep wisdom. Then one spoke up, hesitantly. “Perhaps our Master would interpret the parable for us?”

But the Rebbe would only repeat the last sentence: “I didn’t see them. I really didn’t see them.”

Vihameyvin yavin - those who have understanding will understand.

I think that what Marc Rosenstein is saying in this parable is that there will be no peace in Israel, or anywhere, until people begin to see each other as persons, and not just as members of groups.

And that is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It means to see your neighbor as your neighbor, and not see him through the distorting glasses of a label.

How do you fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, the commandment that the Sages of the Talmud say is ‘klal gadol batorah’ - the central commandment in the whole Torah?

When you look at another human being, whom do you see? Do you see a member of a political party or of an economic class? Do you see a member of a minority group or a member of a social unit? Or do you see a human being, unlike all other humans on this earth? Do you see a creature made in the Image of God? Do you see a creature who cannot be labeled and who cannot be typed or classified, but who must be understood and who must be treated as unique? These labels and these classifications may all be part of who this person is, but they are not his essence. Over and above all the groups to which he may belong, this is a human being; this is a neighbor, this is a child of God. And until and unless you can see him this way, there is no way that you can relate to him in keeping with the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

If you can do that, then you are on the way to being able to fulfill the most important and the most difficult mitzvah in all the Torah.

Shabbat Shalom
Amen.

Sun, May 20 2018 6 Sivan 5778