An oft bandied phrase, one that has been ping-ponging in and out of my thoughts for weeks, months even: Love thy neighbor.
How do I treat the woman next door who is sneaking out the back door to go cheat on her husband? How am I supposed to love the two men at work who just announced their sexual relationship? I believe those things are against Torah, so how am I supposed to love these people?
The attached condition, “as thyself’ also gives me pause. How do I apply that if I don’t so much love myself?
I did an online search and looked at the context of the Law: 18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Ah, some context is now given. It’s not simply a willy-nilly overview of how humanity should be each others’ doormats; to the contrary, this is a simple provision that it’s not up to me to take the matter of law/justice/judgement into my own hands and apply as I desire, angrily so.
Additionally, the condition defines that I’m not to act by my own determination against the sons of my people – against my tribe, so to speak. This certainly isn’t an obligatory statement regarding the whole of humanity. The whole of humanity is not addressed by Torah, just the nation of the Hebrews and those who would take that citizenship.
By extension, this relieves me of an obligation to pass judgement, to call to attention a broken Law of Torah unless the violation is made by a fellow Hebrew. I can point out the matter to the violator, or serve as a witness when it’s my fellow tribesman, but assignment of the duty of repayment and the pronouncement of recompense is not mine to dole.
This also means that I should not take vengeance or bear a grudge against myself, right?
Not as simple.
When my guilt is intertwined with that of the culture in which I’ve been raised, the separation of the threads of real guilt and perceived and societal guilt is an intricate and timely endeavor.
Not truly an easy task, that: cleanly separating what would be expected of me should I truly live in a Torah community, and take an active part in the scales of justice that would prevail there. In order for a release from guilt, there is a penalty to be applied. Justice served, penance done, go on and live your life. Complete.
In absence of that community – well, what then?
So, I continue to live the Law as best I can, in a society not understanding of that Law, not conducive to the keeping of that Law. I keep to myself, do my best to get along with others, because I have no need and no right to judge others’ choices or to preach my beliefs.
And wonder: will there ever be a day that I could wholly practice this simple phrase?