ONE BODY, ONE SOUL
"Do not spread gossip. . .Do not hate your fellow Jew. . .Do not take revenge or bear a grudge. . .Love your fellow Jew as you love yourself. . ." and the list goes on and on.
"Do not spread gossip. . .Do not hate your fellow Jew. . .Do not take revenge or bear a grudge. . .Love your fellow Jew as you love yourself. . ." and the list goes on and on. Granted, these and the many other related laws in this week's Torah portion are meant to create and promote harmony amongst the Jewish people. However, the list of prohibitions and commandments appears to be at the very least an overkill, if not bordering on the unreasonable and implausible. After all, is it really possible for me to love another person as much as I love myself? If another person wrongs me, how can I be expected to simply ignore the insult and damage inflicted on me?
As often occurs, we have been preceded by many generations, as the rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Nedarim 9:4) posed this very question. Their answer provides a startling new perspective on the nature of the Jewish nation, one which must be taken very seriously. The rabbis respond with a parable: Imagine a butcher chopping meat. Accidentally, the butcher lands the knife on his left hand, severely damaging that limb. Would it then make sense for the wounded left hand to return the favor and intentionally injure his right hand which held the knife?
The parable is illuminating. The Jewish nation is like a body. Each Jew plays a role in keeping this body healthy. While each Jew has his own individual responsibility, the Jewish people as a whole have a mission, and thus every Jew must work in total cooperation and harmony to achieve that goal.
Inundated every day with the American notion of the overriding importance of "me", it is easy for us to lose sight of and respect for the concept of "we". The truth is that you and I, along with the rest of the Jewish people, are not disjointed and unconnected individuals, but rather are like the interlocking components of a machine which must function in complete unity if the machine is to work properly. A true understanding and appreciation of this idea allows us not only to tolerate the multitude of commandments laid out in this week's Torah portion, but to view them as imperative and essential to the success of the Jewish nation.
"You shall be holy," commences the second of the two Torah portions we read this week. Interestingly, this command seems to speak to both the individual (see this author's article in last year's Torah from Dixie on Parshat Kedoshim) as well as the Jewish people as a whole. As the Torah specifies in the last five verses of the portion, the concept of the Jewish nation being holy means distinguishing ourselves from the other nations, elevating ourselves through our deeds and actions above the people surrounding us. However, before we can hope to achieve such a level, an important precondition must be met.
Our rabbis tell us that the commandment to "be holy," unlike most other mitzvot, was initially instructed in front of every member of the Jewish nation. The Sfas Emes, a great Torah scholar and leader of the 19th century, explains that such a gathering was necessary in order to demonstrate to the Jewish people that holiness demands the cooperation of every single Jew. Only by seeing ourselves as part of the whole and appreciating that we are but a finger or an eye in the body of the Jewish nation can we hope to attain holiness.
Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is a member of the Kollel Avodas Levi at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.
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