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“Love Your…,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

May 10, 2024 | 2 Iyyar 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

The middle verse of the Torah, Leviticus 19:18, comes this week. It could not have arrived at a more propitious time  We need it now more than ever.

Love your fellow as yourself.  וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ (Leviticus 19:18)

This is not an unfamiliar instruction. The rabbi of the Talmud, Hillel, reframed it in this way:

What is hateful to you, do not do to another person. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.

Jesus was said to have offered his own interpretation:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It is a sentiment we share across nations and peoples. Our behavior toward others hinges on how we want to be regarded and treated. It is our holiness code.

It helps to understand the meaning of this seminal Torah phrase if we know what comes before it in Leviticus 19: 17-18

לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃
You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kindred but incur no guilt on their account.

לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow as yourself: I am GOD.

Who are they talking about? Is this a universal injunction that applies to every person we might encounter? Or is there a more “local” connotation?

I learned from Dr. Harry Orlinsky, of blessed memory, my Bible professor in rabbinical school and one of the key translators of the Torah from the last century, that the Torah speaks of those in our immediate orbit, someone in our circle rather than a global inclusion. This makes us uncomfortable because we were taught to include everyone.

But notice that the commands before “Love your fellow as yourself” recognize the negative potential to distance oneself through hate, reproach, and vengeance from another, specifically: your kinsfolk, your kindred, and members of your people before it gets to “Love your fellow as yourself.” It could be a fellow citizen or someone with a more intimate connection. It is those with whom we do have a closer connection.

The holiness of this instruction enjoins upon us to recognize that we have the capacity to create separation, yet what is central to our very existence is actually to “love our fellow member of the Jewish people as we love ourselves.” It moves out from there.

All the rest is commentary.

Shabbat Shalom שבת שלוּם

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This Shabbat at Temple Israel:

  • We gather as a community at 6:00 p.m. to celebrate Shabbat. Join us onsite or register to join on Zoomor log on via Facebook Live, or our website.
  • Riverway gathers for dinner at 6:45 p.m. followed by 8:00 p.m. service. Register here.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or Register to join on zoom at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading followed by an engaging study and conversation. All levels and abilities are welcomed!
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher