Although the Mitzvah (commandment) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) that appears in the scriptural portion that was read in all synagogues worldwide this last Saturday (April 20) is but one among 613 religious obligations that are noted in the Torah, it has been dubbed “The Golden Rule” or the “Super Mitzvah.”
What is it about this Mitzvah that singles it out from all others to judge by these aliases? Is it because living by its spirit seems so unfeasible? Why, how can I love everyone out there, especially when there are some who have been better to me than others? Indeed, some even have not been good to me at all, and yet, must I love them just like those who have been good to me? Is the Torah being then out of touch with reality when expecting me to love all my neighbors?
No, it is not about sentiments, let alone romantic ones.
Rather, it is about being occupied not only with my own needs, but also with the needs of others.
The love of Jonathan to David is a good example. Jonathan, the eldest son of King Saul the first Israelite king in the days of the Bible, preferred the good of his nation to his own when recognizing that David, his friend (and brother-in-law), would make a better king than he. The magnitude to recognize and prefer another person's merit instead of one's right to inherit exhibited Jonathan's love for David and for the nation that he was expected to lead one day.
On another level, the creativity of the Hebrew language presents to us other ideas of how to love the other.
For instance, the word “others” can be reshuffled as is, and made to recreate the word “guests”; when we have other people – not just the “usual suspects” – to our home for a meal we exhibit love for our neighbor.
Similarly, the Hebrew word for “stranger” can similarly be reshuffled a whit and recreate the word “let us get to know” (yes, it is one word in Hebrew…); thus, we have another example for loving one's neighbor.
The Hebrew word “I” could sound just like “impoverished,” to symbolize that caring only for the self makes one impoverished of all values. On the other hand, the word “you” sounds essentially like the word “now,” sending the message that occupying ourselves now with the needs of “you” (i.e., others, rather than with “I”) would be the formula to avoid one's impoverishment of humanness.
The litmus test for living up to the challenge of the “The Golden Rule” is getting to know what another person lacks. Behaving towards another fellow exactly as you would like others to behave with you would go a long way towards meeting this challenge. And if you think that realistically speaking it is still impractical to do so, then remembering that you still love yourself despite your own shortcomings would help you treat the other with dignity and integrity despite his similar blemishes that you admit to possess yourself.
Yossi Feintuch is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Columbia, MO. and has taught classes in the religious studies department of the University of Missouri. He blogs for Columbia Faith & Values.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.