'We must love the environment, the animals, and every being'

Parshat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim/ Neighborly love

If fatherhood of God does not ensure brotherhood of man then we are all orphans

The most often heard word in spiritual seminars in Israel is love. One of the most famous verses in the Torah is found in this week's reading: "Love your neighbor as yourself". It is a beautiful verse, but taken out of context, it does not mean very much.


The key word in the sentence is not "love," as most people understand, but rather "your neighbor." But the way "love" functions in the world is completely dependent on our understanding of the next part of the text, "your neighbor."


Let me explain. Our verse about loving your neighbor is repeated in the Christian Bible, in the New Testament's Gospel of Mathew. Of course our Christian brothers feel themselves bound by the both the New Testament and the Torah. Thus they are obligated to love, both by the verse in Leviticus and by it's repetition in Mathew.


How could it be?


But the massacring knights of the crusades did not believe that they were in any way violating their obligation to love their neighbor. Neither did the many Ukranian, Polish and Catholic Priests, including Pope Pius who sympathized or actively aided Hitler's extermination of six million Jews.


Why? Because in their reading, one which appears also in a superficial reading Jewish source, the obligation is only to love you "neighbor", meaning a person who shares your values, beliefs and dogma.


So we see that our understanding off the commandment to love is refracted through the prism of one's world view, or what in psychology is called one's level of consciousness. Who I experience as my "neighbor" sets my level of consciousness that determines how I interpret the all important word in the verse "neighbor," rather than my feeling of love, which really is the key determinant in how we manifest love in the world.


Limited love


It is for this reason that we see today in much of the religious world a very sad narrowing of one's circle of love caring and passion. On one hand there are more grassroots, organized kindness projects in the Haredi community then in any other sector of the population. However the objects of all that love and kindness is too often narrowed to other religious people, or even to one's own particular religious community, yeshiva or chassidic court.


This same narrowed ethos is all too often apparent in the policies of the religious parties who, rightly or wrongly, experienced by the public as not concerned with the national interest but with the particular interest of their community. At the same time, secular communities in Israel and the rest of the western world and in Israel, one's circle of caring compassion and love is all too often narrowed to one's immediate circle of family and friends.


Four stages


Let me try and explain this even more deeply. Human beings can potentially go through four stages of moral development in their ability to love. In each stage one's circle of caring and compassion expands. The first stage is called egocentricity and involves care for one's self, immediate family and circle of friends. This is egocentric love. Anyone outside of that small circle is not loved and more often then not treated badly.


The second stage of moral development and loving is called ethnocentricity, meaning love for one's community, tribe or country. But again, anyone out of that still narrow circle is often treated badly. After all, if we are the chosen people, those outside our circle is not worthy of our love.


But if we expand our circle of love, caring and compassion to include all of humanity, if we are able to move from ethnocentricity to globalcentricity, then when we feel love we do not automatically limit its application; rather, we care for and work for the healing and transformation of the entire planet. We understand "neighbor" to extend beyond our selves, family or country but rather we experience all human beings as our neighbors.




We remember that, the things that divide us are far less than those which unite us. We realize that if the fatherhood of God does not ensure the brotherhood of man then we are all orphans.


The fourth level of moral development is to love and care not only for human beings, but for all sentient beings. The Baal Shem Tov teaches in his ethical will that we must extend our feelings of neighborly love even to animals.


The third and fourth levels, those of world centric loving and the love of all sentient beings, that is, applying the emotion and action of love to the entire world, is the goal of Torah consciousness. It is for that reason, teaches the midrash, that the Torah starts with the Book of Genesis: God creates Adam and Eve (and by extension of all humanity) as well as all sentient beings, all of which are worthy and deserving of love and compassion.


Moreover, the Torah's word "neighbor" in the Torah is clearly not limited to Jews. The Jews in Egypt "borrow" gold and silver vessels from their Egyptian neighbors. It is thus clear that the word neighbor in the Torah includes not only, as some sources limit it, to "one's neighbor in Torah and mitzvot", but rather to all human beings.


It is therefore our job as Jews to experience love for the entire planet, and to use that experience to motivate us to do "tikkun olam," the healing and transformation in love of the entire planet.


Israel's domestic and foreign social policies must reflect this consciousness. We must love the environment, the animals, and every being for whom we are responsible in our state; if our policies do not reflect this consciousness then there is little purpose or truth in calling ourselves a Jewish state.


The old adage of deciding policy based on "what's good for the Jews" is actually a violation of the very rasion de etre of the Jewish people: "Love your Neighbor"- all of your neighbors, every being on the face of the planet - as you love yourself".


פרסום ראשון: 05.04.06, 23:48
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