Rosh Hashanah – Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

After we have established that relationship, we can love our neighbor as ourselves because our ability to love ourselves has been established through our orientation toward God.

Praise Yah! Hallelujah!

I went to church on Sunday. Have any of you been yet? There was quite a bit of Hallelujah there. Praise God! The universal exclamation of joy.

One of the prayers that Angel, the Worship Director, and the other prayer leaders sang talked about how God is with us and cares about us not because of our merits, but because of God’s love for us. It’s very similar to prayers that we say every morning, prayers that we will say over the next days of our Holidays, Mah anachnu, mah Hayeinu? Who are we? What are our lives, our righteousness? In which we recognize that we should be humble and thankful to our Creator.

Looking around the room at the faces of the worshipers in our sanctuary, two things stood out to me. First, I had the amazing feeling that people gave off of ‘I want to be here!’ There was great joy in the room, a feeling of uplift. Pastor Hurmon is an inspiring and entertaining speaker. The message, with a different vocabulary of course, of how we can all live our lives to maximize our gifts, to fight against our destructive patterns, was one that we hear all the time in our sanctuary, given by Rabbi Ezray, Rabbi Ilana. So that was my first takeaway. Emotion!!

Second, looking around the room, I was struck by the diversity of the gathering. African-American, White, Asian, Latino—it was a beautiful heterogeneous group. Running through my mind was that this is religion at its best; the antidote to OTHER. The embrace of a Christian group by a Jewish congregation. The desire to work together, to get to know each other. Tribalism.

It seems like this is all too rare, too distant in today’s society. IRONY—Particularism—I teach this.

Rabbi is mentioning genesis and exodus tomorrow. I’m going to take a crack at Leviticus. Because—Leviticus! Leviticus is basically a two-part book. The first 16 or so chapters contain the scintillating details of sacrifice, permitted and prohibited animals for eating, laws about skin disease, childbirth, bodily emissions, houses with mold, and a couple of goats used on Yom Kippur to expiate the people. Following all of these dense and in many cases archaic laws, is what we know as the Holiness Code, i.e. how we treat each other. Perhaps the most famous of these verses is Love your Neighbor as Yourself.

What Leviticus is doing is giving us rules at the beginning for the essential creation of relationship with God. Ritual after ritual turns us toward God. After we have established that relationship, we can love our neighbor as ourselves because our ability to love ourselves has been established through our orientation toward God.

Of course we don’t really live Leviticus lives anymore. We have preserved some of the laws, notably Kashrut, but most of the beginning of the book is a relic of a different time, a time when we communicated with God in a wholly different way. Yet, the message of Love.

The world seems upside down at times, especially now. We pray for those in Mexico who suffered the earthquake yesterday. We pray for the victims of the hurricanes which don’t seem to stop bludgeoning the Caribbean. On top of the natural disasters, we have political discord, rogue nuclear states, and of course the ongoing struggles in Israel. Perhaps the worst thing for me is that the more and more we devolve into tribalism, into stigmatizing and demonizing Other. The Conservatives. The Muslims. The Jews. The Liberals. It’s the violation of Buber’s I-Thou in the worst of ways. There’s no Atah there, no You, only THE.

So what to do? I look for hope. My hope comes from NBCC, our tenants and partners in creating a better world. My hope comes from ISRAaid, the organization that provides first responders to disasters across the globe, and that is fighting to help refugees. We are supporting ISRAaid this year in their mission to improve the world.

My hope comes from AICAT. As many of you know, my family visited AICAT this past June, a visit that Shira so beautifully chronicled. To watch young adults from 10 nations—Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Ethiopia, East Timor, Thailand—live together and celebrate together gives me hope. To hear the story of Faisal, the group leader of the Ethiopian students, relate how moving it was for him as a Muslim to visit alAqsa mosque and have such strong positive feelings gives me hope. To know that almost 20,000 students have studied in Israel and gone home to their developing countries to solve problems of food insecurity and gender inequality AND become ambassadors for Israel at home gives me hope.

AICAT is a great antidote to the other, a place where people see each other, celebrating how alike we are while also recognizing each other’s differences.

In Brachot 9b, The Talmud records a debate about when the Shema can be said, i.e. when the day begins. The first opinion is to know the difference between the white and the blue in the tzitzit. Rabbi Meir says when one can distinguish between a wolf and a dog. Rabbi Akiva says between a donkey and a wild donkey. The halakha, though, follows this opinion: ואחרים אומרים משיראה את חברו רחוק ד’ אמות ויכירנו Others say: When one can see his fellow from a distance of 4 cubits and recognize him. We follow others.

Before we can say the Shema, before we pledge fidelity to our Creator, before we can love God, we must see our fellow human and recognize him or her. It is the opposite of the Leviticus paradigm. We love and care for our fellow before we form that relationship with God. The day begins when we see our fellow person.

May our year begin seeing our fellow person. Shana Tova.