The Heart of Torah

And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to all the company of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You are holy for I, Hashem your God, am holy.'”

imageMost translations try to fix what appears to be a grammatical error in the text by saying something like, “You are to be holy because…,” but the Hebrew is emphatic in its statement: “You are holy.” This is uncomfortable to us and it almost pains us because we can look into our hearts and see the sin and the uncleanness, and we can justly say, ” No, what I see in my heart is not holy and it is not clean.” However, As R’Moshe Avigdor Amiel writes in his book, Light for an Age of Confusion, “Of the G-d of Israel it was said, ‘Moreover, He loves the people’ (Deuteronomy 33:3) — all of them; and yet, in our prayers every morning before we recite the Shema, we praise and bless Him as ‘the L-rd who chooses His people Israel with love.'” So why does Torah claim we are holy? For two main reasons. First, He gives us commands that allow us to raise our kedushah (holiness) before Him; this is why we say, “Baruch atah, Adonai eloheinu, melech haolsm, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav…,” or “Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d, Who sanctifies us with His commandments” before we begin a command. Second, we are Holy because in His chen (grace) He has declared it. Therefore, who are you to argue?

The Talmud calls this parshah the heart of Torah, for in it we see the command considered to be the wellspring from which all commands arise:

19:15
Do not pervert justice.
Do not give special consideration to the poor nor show respect to the great.
Judge your people fairly

19:16
Do not go around as a gossiper among your people.
Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger
I am Hashem

19:17
Do not hate your brother in your heart
You must admonish your neighbor,
And not bear sin because of him

19:18
Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people.
You must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself
I am Hashem

Let’s look at these passages a little bit closer because there are terms with which we need to become familiar. You will notice terms like your brother, your neighbor, your people. While most commentaries paint these terms (brother, neighbor, nation) as synonymous, it’s quite feasible for us to look at these terms as concentric circles. Within the circle of your people or nation, you will have the circle of your brother; within the circle of your brother, you will find the circle of your neighbor.

Amitecha – Judge your people fairly
Amecha – Do not gossip about your people
Reecha – Help your neighbor who is in mortal danger
Achicha – Do not hate your brother
Amitecha – Admonish your neighbor
Amecha – Do not take revenge against your people
Reecha – Love your neighbor as yourself

You would think that the counting of the Omer, which anticipates the giving of the Torah at Shavout or Pentecost, would be a time of joy and anticipation, but instead, the first 32 are days of mourning. This is because R’Akiva lost 12,000 pairs of disciples during this time. There have been many commentaries on why this even happened, from the disciples not respecting each other to outright competition and hatred for one another. However, I think there is another reason, and it’s found in a simple misunderstanding or a misapplication.

Akiva fervent taught loving your neighbor as yourself is central to Torah Does that mean that if you’re a massochist you can be a sadist? This is the downside to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you treat yourself badly you can use this verse as license to treat others badly.

This, I think, was central to the problem with Akiva’s students. As students, they needed very little. Then, the communities supplied the yeshivas with everything they needed, and individually the 12,000 pairs required so little. They were fed and given meager quarters. Therefore, according to the principle “love your neighbor as yourself,” these students misapplied the teaching and did not assist anyone or any student. They received very little and this gave them permission to give little, too. This is why one of Akiva’s five new students, b’Asai said, “there is a greater principle,” and he quote Genesis 1:27: And G-d created man in His own image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.

Ben Asai is saying that we cannot use how we treat ourselves as the benchmark to know how to treat our neighbor. Instead, we need to remember we are created in the image of G-d. We need to treat ourselves with more kindness because we ARE in the image of G-d and this will give us more energy to treat each other with love. Ben Assai went so far as to suggest that the term reecha in 19:18 actually includes G-d. Therefore, how we treat our fellow man needs to be a reflection on how we treat G-d.

Let’s return to R’Moshe Avigdor Amiel once more, for he makes a cogent point but I will redirect this final point away from Zionism to Judaism:

It is a firm rule that “an accuser, a prosecuting attorney, cannot become a defender, a defense attorney,” (b.Rosh Hashanah 26a); and again, “from the stock of a snake sprouts a viper” (Isaiah 14:39). Hatred cannot engender love. A Judaism conceived and born in hatred – even the hatred of others toward us – cannot lead to an affectionate attitude or relationship, even among ourselves. This might be, perhaps, the source of covert, suppressed, and even openly revealed enmity so prevalent in our own camp, between the various branches of Judaism. Although all are firmly based on Torah and mitzvot, they nevertheless dislike one another and often intensely. Things have gone so far that they suspect one another of everything under the sun. Hatred gives rise to hatred. The orthodoxy demean the Conservative, the conservative disrespect the Reform, the Reform despises the Messianic, the Messianic distrust the Reconstructionist, and the disrespect and lashon hara is never-ending. In short – we must restore our glory of old. In place of the Judaisms of hate, we must bring back our Judaisms of love. We must return to our intention: Ahavat Yehudi, a love for our fellow. Without, we weaken our collectivity and expose ourselves to further annihilation by those who lethally seek our demise. No Judaism is safe by itself. Each branch must allow for the peaceful and supportive existence of the others while carving its own niche through discipleship and proselytizing.

We here, in these Messianic Jewish seats, must remove ourselves from our comfortable chairs and engage the Jewish community, allowing them to see us, not as a threat, but as an entity that is trying to express our Jewishness. If we are going to claim to be Messianic Judaism, we need to foster comfort in our participation with the greater Jewish community.

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