Welcome to INTERFAITH REFLECTIONS. As a partner in Interfaith Solidarity Network, you are warmly invited to join in this interfaith dialogue. Whether you’re a member of the clergy or a lay member of a congregation, please send your Interfaith Reflections submission (of any length) to Andy Carmichael, Communications Chair at ISN.
Our first Interfaith Reflection comes from Rabbi Jim Kaufman, Emeritus Rabbi, Temple Beth Hillel and ISN Board member.
BUS BENCH BROADSIDE
(BROADSIDE definition: a strongly worded comment”)
Surely you have seen the pictured bus bench around the San Fernando Valley? You perhaps wondered: What is that scribbling? What does it mean? It is Hebrew. From the Torah, the first five books of Hebrew Scriptures. You’ll find it in the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, and verse 18. Translation: “…and you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha”)
These words have been on scores of bus benches long before the pandemic, so the original intent of the “advertiser” (whose identity I do not know) was not to target the American who considers Covid 19 a hoax and therefore warrants no protective response. This message must have originally been intended to address the heightened disrespect for different political leanings and the resulting dysfunction that it prompted in the macro, our governmental process, and in the micro, in our filial ties and circle of friends. The political rancor that permeates American life is so toxic; it has driven one person to purchase advertising space on bus benches imploring people to “love your neighbor as you love yourself”. Implying of course that in the realm of “self-love” we do come to accept those aspects of ourselves that we do not like or do not understand. And if we can accept them for ourselves, we should surely do so for others.
But then Covid 19 strikes and this “bus bench broadside” makes the demand for love, or at least tolerance, of others more imperative, even life saving.
But let’s look for a moment at Leviticus 19:18 and notice a few things:
In Hebrew, it is in “command” form. Hardly a suggestion: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself!”
But can we command “love”?
The answer lies in the detail surrounding Leviticus 19:18:
Lev. 19:1 “You shall be holy”- you shall live an ethical, moral life
Lev. 19:10 “. . . and when you harvest your vineyard, . . . you shall leave the fallen fruit for the poor and the stranger who are in need.”
Lev. 19:11 “. . . you shall not lie to one another”.
Lev. 19:12 “. . . you shall not oppress our neighbor”.
Lev. 19:15 “You shall not favor the poor or the rich, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”
Lev. 19:16 “You shall not gossip, spread false tales . . .”
Lev. 19: 18 “You shall not bear a grudge nor wreak vengeance upon your neighbor, but you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
No, you can’t “command” love but you can create that love with specific legislation that will lead to “love”. And that is what Leviticus 19 seeks to do. Personal and communal holiness is achieved when a set of behaviors as elucidated in this famous Biblical chapter (called “The Holiness Code”) is achieved. The path to “true love” is ethical behavior.
Imagine if everyone just adhered as best as humanly possible to the above commands, if would indeed obviate the necessity for commanding “love”. If you execute successfully on Leviticus 19, verses 1 through 17, you’ll achieve Leviticus 19:18. In these Covid times, Leviticus 19:18 and all of the injunctions surrounding it demand that we do NOT say:
“I am more “essential” than my neighbor”.
“I must be moved ahead of my neighbor in the “vaccine” queue”.
“I don’t need to wear a mask, its silly, its inconvenient, and its uncomfortable”.
“I know many have died, but not in my family and I still believe this is a hoax”
Leviticus 19 – all of it – simply reminds us that my life is equal to the life of another and my behavior, to be ethical (holy) must facilitate the “common good”. That’s why the injunction to “love your neighbor” is preceded by a set of commands that will create the matrix for love. Leviticus 19 in its totality, commands “circumspection”, underpinning the belief that your life is just as essential as mine. Contemplate your behavior before you act. Is it only for your own good or is it for the “common good” as well?
And so our “Bus Bench Broadside” is commanding some circumspection at this historic introspective period in American life. Yes, wear a mask, social distance and shelter whenever possible . . . all for yourself and for the common good. And yes, before you get in line for a shot, consider whether someone else is either equally in need or even more in need than you.
So I am offering this rewrite of Leviticus 19:18:
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” – even if it requires some self-sacrifice.
Much to learn from a bus bench.