Friday, April 12, 2013

Love Your Who?

The purpose of this blog is to promote friendly conversation at the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

As the famous story goes, two guys made a bet.

One said to his friend, "You know that rabbi, Hillel? Nothing, and I mean nothing, can cause him to lose his cool."

The friend was skeptical. "I don't believe it."

"Wanna bet?"

"Sure, how much?"

"I bet 50 shekels you can't make Hillel lose his temper even for a second."

"You're on!"

So he goes to Hillel. But he waits until Friday afternoon when everyone is running around preparing for Shabbat.

He listens at the window until he hears the familiar splish-splash of someone taking a bath.

Then he makes his move.

Banging on the door, he shouts, "Hillel, is Hillel there? Hillel, I need Hillel!"

In moments, a dripping Hillel appears in his bathrobe with a look of great concern. "What is it? How may I help you?"

"Are you Hillel?"

"That is my name, yes."

"Are you the famous rabbi?"

"I don't know if I'm that famous, but I am the rabbi they call Hillel."

"I heard you're real smart."

"Well, I don't know about that. You shouldn't believe everything you hear."

"Listen, I want to convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I'm standing on one foot [i.e., quickly]."

"My dear friend, I thought you were going to ask me a hard question. That one I certainly can agree to do."

So he converted him and then taught him: "What is hateful to you, don't do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah! The rest is explanations. Now go learn."

The whole story is much longer, but this is enough for me to ask this week's first question for your table:

Most people understand that Hillel's summary of the Torah is derived from, if not identical to the famous line from Leviticus, "Love your neighbor as yourself." But does it really mean the same thing?

This week someone asked me what is the Hebrew word for "neighbor" in "Love your neighbor". The answer is "ray'echa", the root of which is "rah" which means "bad". In other words, the verse could be interpreted as, "Love [even] the one who is bad to you as much as [you love] yourself."

(I don't think this has anything to do with someone who is dangerous or abusive. Just someone who isn't pleasing you all the time.)

Question #2 - If we're supposed to love the one who is "bad", what does that imply about someone who is for the most part good?

Shabbat Shalom

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