If you are ever in the position to explain Judaism to someone while they stand on one foot, you essentially quote this week’s parsha: Do not do to others what is hateful to you. Treat your neighbor as yourself. That is the essence of holiness. The rest is commentary, we are told.
Rabbi Schulweis argues that God is not a noun but an adverb. We do not look to God, we look to be godly. What is godly? If we examine what we ask of God, then we can understand what is demanded of us. In our morning prayers, we ask God to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, the comfort the distraught, to free the bound. We ask God to heal the sick. But this is not a one-way relationship. We do not rely on God to do all of this alone. We assist God, we work as God’s agents on earth. We use medicine to heal. We use law to liberate the imprisoned. We use compassion (and chocolate) to comfort. God reminds us 36 times in the Torah that we must care for the stranger, for we ourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Not standing idly by the blood of our neighbor. These are among the commandments we are reminded of this week. The Hebrew word used for neighbor is “re’eicha”. This neighbor is someone close by, someone we know and love, someone we see at the supermarket. The Hebrew word is used nearly 200 times in the Tanakh to describe a friend, someone close, but also foreigners, people who speak different languages, and even people who disagree with each other.
So we read these commandments, these mitzvot, as referring to our interactions to everyone in the world. Those close to us, but also those far away who speak a different language and have different beliefs. In today’s global society, we can see what happens on the other side of the world as it occurs. On our phone, on our computer, scrolling across buildings. We are just as aware of events 10,000 miles away as those happening around the corner. These are our neighbors, these are the people we must care for. When our parsha says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) – it is the world we must take into account. When it says “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Lev. 19:16) – it is reminding us of the global community we have created, how we are responsible one for the other.
Much is expected of us if we are to be godly. As God commands, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). We speak to God as the Sovereign of the entire world, Melekh HaOlam, so too are we accountable for the entire world.
You will need to stand on both feet, because this is not easy work.
Ari Averbach is the Harold M. Schulweis Rabbinic Intern at Jewish World Watch. You can meet him in person at the Walk to End Genocide in Los Angeles.