Sunday, April 24, 2011

Loving You is Easy Cause I’m Beautiful

Loving You is Easy Cause I’m Beautiful

by Josh Buchin, Guest Writer

This parsha, Kedoshim, instructs us how to be holy. We are given a comprehensive list of dos and don'ts that cover a wide range of topics: sacrifices, business dealings, dress codes, sexual relations, ethics, and even interactions with ghosts. At the heart of all of these seemingly disconnected rules is the verse,

"and you shall love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord" (Exodus 19:18).

This verse encapsulates all of the other laws mentioned in this week's parsha. The central question posed by this Torah portion is: how can we be holy? What does God want from us?

Although this parsha contains many rules, the answer comes from this one verse. The answer is that God wants us to "love your fellow as yourself." God wants us to treat others fairly and with respect, recognizing the Divinity within them. This verse is not only key to understanding this portion, but is crucial to understanding all of the Torah, as well as all of Judaism. Rashi, quoting Rabbi Akiva, said that "this is the fundamental principle of the Torah."

The Torah, and Judaism, both want us to be our best selves, and to live in harmony with the Divine, the natural world and with those around us. Our tradition provides us with a wide range of instructions for how to do this; keep Shabbat, observe the dietary laws, celebrate the holidays. But at the heart of all of these commandments is the phrase, "love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord."

Unequivocally, we are told to love everyone. Regardless of what they've done to us - or haven't done for us - we have an obligation to treat everyone with respect, kindness and compassion, and to love them in the deepest religious sense of the term. The second part of this phrase is even more specific: we shouldn't just love them, we should love them like we love ourselves. We should remember, in all of our interactions, what is often referred to as The Golden Rule: namely, the ethic of reciprocity, the desire to treat others the way we ourselves would want to be treated.

But how do we do this? How do we put this mantra into action? Is it even possible to love others like we love ourselves? It's often hard to connect with other people on a basic level, let alone to show them true and deep love the way we love ourselves. According to the Sefas Emes, a 19th century Biblical and Talmudic commentary, the way that we are to accomplish this monumental task is through the help of God.

"It is not easy to carry out the commandment 'and you shall love your fellow as yourself' in the fullest sense of its meaning. Therefore, immediately after this command, God declares: 'I am the Lord' - I, God, stand ready to help you to fulfill My commandment provided that you sincerely wish to keep it."

If we are willing to be in partnership with God, and to live in harmony with the Divine, God will hold up God's side of the agreement, and will help support us as well.

Elsewhere, the Sefas Emes said,

"One of the greatest religious problems is that people fear having a relationship with God and consequently distance themselves from Him."

We shouldn't be afraid of this connection. Rather, we should be eager to embrace it and to live in partnership with the Divine. Through this partnership, we can become our best selves and help strive for a better, perfected world. This is true holiness, and this is what parshat Kedoshim is instructing us. Being holy means remembering that we're not alone: it means remembering others, and treating them with kindness and respect. And it means remembering God, who has never forgotten us either.


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