Posts Tagged With: unitarian

“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.”

G-d said it.  Jesus said it.  Gandhi said it.  Along with countless others throughout history.  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  We all know about this famous–often slightly different–line, often called the golden rule, but do we actually know about it?  Do we know what its about; what it means?

This is a tweak of the most often repeated command in the torah, “Love the stranger,” and there have been many different thoughts regarding it by the various sages and commentators of torah throughout the generations.  Here I will share with you my thoughts on the subject.

There are basically two kinds of commandments: those between man and G-d, and those between man and man.  The latter is also between man and G-d, as each man is a creation of the Holy One, created “b’tzalmo,” in his image.  The mitzvoth (commandments) between G-d and man are important, but it would seem as if G-d is more concerned with us following those mitzvoth between man and man.  I think that this is why the command to “love your neighbor,” is repeated so many times, because it all boils down to that.  The great sage Hillel was asked to teach a pagan the whole torah while the man stood on one foot.  Rav Hillel responded, “that which is hateful to you, do to no one.  That is the whole torah, the rest is commentary, now go and learn it.”  powerful and interesting words.

So, how can he say, “this is the whole torah?”  Is he just being flippant; or is there a deeper meaning that we are to learn from this?  It could be possible, that ALL of the mitzvoth are intended to be for the benefit of both man’s relationship to his fellow, and his relationship with G-d.  In fact, I wouldn’t doubt it if somebody, in some commentary, somewhere, has said this very same thing.  It seems logical to me.

-Mitzvoth between man and G-d, are meant to keep man in a spiritual plain of being, and center him around those things which are truly important in life.  From giving tzedakah (charity) to the laying of tefillin (phylacteries), to the temple offerings (these days, this is taken up by prayer), these practices teach us not to value possessions over our souls, and to build a bridge and devekut (cleaving) to The Endless One.

-If man is on a spiritual plain of being, and not valuing the material over the ethereal, he is able to connect to his fellow man who may have much more–materialistically speaking–or may have less.  He can also connect better with his fellow man who may have much more, or much less in a spiritual sense.  In this way, there is almost a kind of socialism of thought and practice, more than a socialism (charity) of economics.

-We can conclude through this scenario, that those mitzvoth which appear to be concerned only with the relationship of man and G-d, are also a main driving force to the healthy relationship between man and his fellow.

In a strictly semantic, Torah sense, the sages tell us that the word גר-ger (stranger) refers to one who has converted to judaism, and not to all strangers.  There are, in fact, many different words that refer to somebody who was or is an outsider.  Since Torah was written for, and given to the children of Israel, references in it such as “a man who…” are referring to the children of Israel.  This is not derisive or an expression of superiority in any way.  It is similar to how US law may say–in a theoretical situation– “an immigrant who….” and it would not be singling the immigrant out as being lesser, just as an immigrant.  The law would not specify, “a native born american,” because that would be understood under the language of, “a person who….”  I hope this is making sense.  Sometimes my thoughts make sense inside my head, but not once they come out, so I have read over this many times.

According to this teaching and understanding of torah, the command to “love the ger” is meaning to “love the immigrant to your people, who has taken upon himself the laws of your land.”  This is the love whose command is repeated so many times.

This does not, however, mean that it is ok according to torah to hate others who are not a part of your people (whether born or converted).  There are, in fact, more mitzvoth and halacha (jewish law) that concern the relationship between the jewish people and non-jews.  There would, for example, be no way to be “or l’goyim” (a light to the nations) if hatred of them were permitted.  And to further touch on the “spiritual plane” thought, perhaps there would be no way to be or l’goyim without being on a spiritual plane–if what we are to show the goyim is what G-d truly desires of people: respect and love for the world.

Since I have stated that all of the mitzvoth between man and G-d are also for the benefit of human relationship, then it seems to follow reason that all of the second category are ways in which we express love to G-d through his creations.  As I said above, every person is created b’tzalmo, in his image.  If the category of the first, and the category of the second are in essence expressing love to G-d, then the dictum of Hillel, “that which is hateful to you, do to nobody,” makes more sense in terms of covering the whole torah.

There is something that troubles me a little bit here, however; if we are simply not doing to others “that which is hateful” to us, are we really doing them good?  Maybe this is the same type of thinking as the Latin maxim premum non nocere, “first, do no harm.”  If we are not harming, at least we are not making the world worse, but we are not making it better either.  Once we do something though, if we are not doing harm, we must be engaged in “good.”  We must be performing acts which are ultimately beneficial to all–the main focus of all the mitzvoth!

I’m going to stop writing now, for tonight, because I’m tired and I think I’m just starting to ramble on.  Let me know what you think of this and other blog posts in the comments section below, if you please.  I am new to blogging, and find it to be quite therapeutic to be able to get my thoughts out (so I would probably even blog if only a type of diary), but I would like to be able to morph my style and content into a more interesting version of itself.

Shalom, salaam, forever.

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You Don’t Look Jewish….

There is a joke, that I’ll paraphrase.

A rabbi from New York is invited to visit a synagogue in China.  He isn’t sure what to expect, but he is delighted to witness a service exactly like those that he is used to, but it is still a bit strange because everybody there is Chinese.  After the service, he meets with the rabbi of the shul, and thanks him for the wonderful experience.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says, “but it was just beautiful!”

The rabbi smiles and says to him, “Thank you!  Its strange though…you don’t look Jewish….”

What does it mean to, “look Jewish?”  If you can tell me, definitively, what this means, I will give you a gold star.  There are Eastern European Jews, Spanish Jews, Mediterranean Jews, Italian Jews, Asian Jews, Indian Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, Arab Jews, North African Jews, Black Jews…you get the idea.  There are Jews whose ancestors have always been from the children of Israel, and there are Jews who are the descendants of converts–or are converts themselves.

Yes, that’s correct, a person CAN convert to Judaism.  In fact, conversion to Judaism has such a long and rich history, that several times the practice of circumcision for the sake of conversion has been outlawed on pain of death by whoever was the governing people of the time.  Still not sure you believe me?  King David’s grandmother, Ruth was a convert.  You can read all about it in the book of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) which bears her name.

I have heard the remark many times that, “Jews don’t have red hair,” but King David himself is described as being red haired.  If you look in any Yeshiva (school for learning torah) you will probably see–very orthodox–Jews with red hair.  Some Jews have curly hair.  Some jews have straight hair.  Some Jews have no hair!

I think you get the point:  There is no such thing as “looking Jewish,” or more in particular, there is no such thing as a person who, “doesn’t look Jewish.”  I actually enjoy when people ask me the question of, “is Jewish a race, a culture, or a religion?”  I look at them and grin a little bit as I respond, “yes.”

It is a little bit like being human.  Sure, all humans aren’t Jewish, but just as there is not enough clear and simple description of what it means to “look Jewish,” all people are people!  I saw a video earlier today, from the show, “What Would You Do?”  They had three actors in a barber shop in Harlem: a black, female stylist; a black male customer; and the girlfriend of the black customer…who was a white girl.  They had the stylist playing the role of the racist woman who can’t stand to see a nice young black man with a white girl.  The object of the show was to capture the reactions of the other customers in the shop, who weren’t privy to the plot.  There were a few customers who really lashed out against this racism.  The basic part of the arguments was, “People are people!”

I don’t care if you’re black, purple, polka-dotted, whatever…you are a person, and you deserve to be treated as such.  That is the cliche part of what I’ll say here.  The non-cliche, and possibly controversial part is this: we are not all the same!  Some of us are tall, some short, some fat, thin, athletic, academic, math geeks, language geeks, uneducated, PhD’s, speak english as a second language, speak english as one of five languages.  And yes, not only are some of us white, and some of us black.  Some of us are Jews, some (well most, really) of us goyim*.  And–brace yourselves–some of us are men, and some of us are women!  And thank G-d for that!  For all of it!

We are not the same!  This culture of false equality that we are inculcated with is one of the things that is harming our society on a daily basis.  There is no reason that a woman should be expected to be–in all ways–equal with a man, and vise versa.  And that goes for every single one of the classifications listed previously.  This isn’t to say that a woman can’t do the same things that a man can do, or vise versa, but it is to say that there are things that each one of us are better at doing, and that’s just the way it is.  There is no excuse for subjugation resulting from differences, and I think that is why there is such a hard  push for total equality.  Unfortunately, because there are people who do subjugate others under the premise of these differences (I think these differences are just scapegoats, by the way, for those who are hateful or power hungry), we miss out so much on the beauty embodied in these differences.

Each one of us being different is what makes this world a beautiful place.  If each person were simply treated as a person, and appreciated for both our strengths and weaknesses, this world would be so amazing.  If everybody ceased, tomorrow, from subjugating others, we would have peace on earth.  That is the climate that we will witness when Moshiach (the messiah) comes.  That will be as close as possible to Heaven on Earth.  In fact, this would be a return in thinking.  A revolution in terms of coming full circle.

Whatever you think about the veracity of the story of the garden of Eden from the book of Bereishit (Genesis), there are quite a few things that we can all take away from it.  The story of the garden can be seen as allegory for the human race, and for each human individually.  Adam and Eve live a carefree existence.  Every need is provided for them.  They do not feel cold, or heat.  They do not know hunger or thirst.  The only stipulation, is that there is a tree (not an apple, by the way) that they are not to eat from.  When, after being tempted by the serpent, they eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they pass from this state of innocence to the world beyond, where they have to work for everything.  Now, they must worry about competition, jealousy, embarrassment, blame, sin, and atonement.  Before, they were children.  Now, they are adults.

There is a remaining philosophical question in this, regarding whether a person can actually be wholly human and be innocent like this.  One of the things, after all, that makes us human is that we not only have the capacity but also the necessity to reason logically, and to think about all of these things.  Nakedness doesn’t only refer to articles of clothing, but also to psychological openness.  In fact, it is much harder to be emotionally naked in front of another person than it is to be physically naked. If we can build a world where man and woman can look at each other naked–in the most difficult sense of the word–“and feel no shame” as it is written, then we can realize a world in which Moshiach has come.  Then it will be as a return to the Garden of Eden, a return to the purity of youth when it didn’t matter if you were black, white, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Asian, arab, Jew, or goy*…or, man or woman.

*Note:  I cannot stress this enough, I do not use the word “goy” or its plural “goyim” as a derogatory term.  It is the opposite of saying “jew” and carries with it no inferiority from its antonym.

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Universalism, Tolerance, Education

 coexist

A friend of mine goes to the local Unitarian Universalist Church here.  She’s one of the teachers in the teen group, and asked me if I would come in to talk to the kids about Judaism.  Now, she and the other teachers did tell me that Judaism is the one faith which they did not research very much before visiting the synagogue, and having a guest speaker, but I didn’t expect so few questions from the kids.  It really brought back for me, a general ethos of our society that if you have to ask questions, you are somehow inadequate as a person.  This may not be an actuality, but it sure seems as if it is, and it definitely seems to be more prevalent among teens.  As a quick aside, if you do not belong to a traditional religion, but you would like some kind of spiritual fellowship, they are all quite nice at these churches without you having to commit to a particular religion.

One of the kids in the class was very curious, and so, asked many questions.  I guess it could be that curiosity is just something that comes with maturity.  I remember when I was a kid, that those who were outspoken, and different-minded, were often those that were thought of as nerds or weirdos.  It is so amazing how much time changes that kind of thought for many of us!  Now, this kid is probably the type of kid who is thought of as a nerd, or a weirdo, but I am starting to thing that an attitude of curiosity shows two things: maturity (as I said above), and an individuality.  In fact, perhaps the true rebels of society aren’t the ones doing drugs, or dyeing their hair, or listening to “objectionable” music.  Perhaps the true rebels are those who will not simply be sheep, content to hang out, unquestioning.

The scientific method depends upon inquiry.  All knowledge, in fact, depends upon inquiry.  Since all knowledge depend upon inquiry, so too, does all education depend upon the willingness of people to step outside their comfort zone, and ask questions that need to be asked.  I used to ask my kids, when I picked them up from school, “what did you learn today?”  Increasingly, I am trying to change to asking, “what questions did you ask today?”  They are still kids, so there isn’t very much dialogue in such cases, but I am hoping to imprint upon their brains that questioning is a very important and positive thing.  Especially as our children grow older, and start understanding that mom and dad don’t actually know everything–as they assume when younger–it is even more important that we teach them first hand, the priority of curiosity, and diminish the importance of being correct.  We must question, without giving up who we are in the process.

One thing that I think we can definitely learn from the Unitarian church is the ability to step outside our comfort zone to ask questions.  It is good to learn about other people, and what is important to them–what makes them tick, if you will.  Ignorance is the biggest obstacle to acceptance and tolerance.  Tolerance, however, is not always what modern society seems to think it is.

Tolerance means accepting others for who they are, and not trying to change them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to diminish yourself, or join in with their particular beliefs.  My fourteen year old doesn’t seem to understand this simple point.  The other day, he thought it was ridiculous that I wouldn’t pray facing a christmas tree.  I told him that it was a pagan fertility symbol, and that I wouldn’t pray facing it.  He got all indignant and said, “I thought Jews were supposed to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.”  I simply responded that, “yes, we do not force anyone to be Jewish, so yes, we are tolerant of them.”  Ironically, it was his indignant attitude regarding what I would and wouldn’t do concerning my spiritual worship that was intolerance.

In this day of false “coexistence” we are less free to be the people we actually are.  When I see the bumper stickers with this credo on them, it makes me think that even the thought of coexistence is something that must be foisted upon people, as if it is simply another form of intolerance.  While I don’t think that people should be disrespected based upon race, creed, etc, I also don’t think that we should all be lumped into one pile of being.  To do so would deny the uniqueness that makes us, and the world, beautiful!  Some of us are short, tall, round, thin, strong, meek, fast, courageous, timid, extroverted, introverted, etc.  We are all human, and so there are “certain inalienable rights” that we all should give one another, but we must also understand that we are not all the same.  We are equal in that first category, but we are not equal in all ways.  IF we continue to operate under the false pretense of absolute equality, we will do great detriment to future generations, and a great disservice to ourselves.  IF we do this, we remove the opportunity for tolerance, and education, and replace it with a mask of universalism–while denying the universe.

so, Shalom, Salaam, Pax, Paz, and Namaste, to the universe…including all of you unique and beautiful creatures who make it the wonderful place to live.  I appreciate you not in spite of your differences, but because of them.

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