This week’s double sedra is full of moral directives - not just on religious and ceremonial matters, but on commandments which govern how we are to live together. Among these directives is the famous phrase “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Rabbi Akiva explains that this is a fundamental principle and one of the pillars of Torah and Judaism.
Is it possible or even remotely realistic to presume that I am capable of truly loving my neighbour as I love myself? I can be compassionate with my family and friends. Even with strangers. But how can I be compassionate towards someone I don’t like? There are two approaches. Maimonides suggests a psychological approach to dealing with such a person. His advice suggests that because I don’t like him, I should get to know him better, find out more about him. I have to put him into context. Once I begin to understand more about his whole life, I'll be able to have more compassion for him.
The S'fat Emet, suggests a completely different approach. In fact, the solution does not lie with the person I don’t like. It's not about him, it's about me. After I've worked things out with him, there will inevitably be another like him, and then another. There will always be people who press my buttons. So what do I have to do to get along with him? The advice is that I have to completely reframe the experience. This difficult person is coming to teach me an important lesson: I may think of myself as caring and compassionate, but this person comes to teach me that I can go even further and expand my ability for compassion. The only thing that is limiting my ability to do this is me.
Our society has seen first-hand the effects of what happens when we don’t treat each other as one – civil wars, the Holocaust and the ongoing global conflicts. At the same time, some of the best moments in history stem from our understanding of our interconnectivity as human beings – when people united during the tragic events of 9/11, and when strangers risked their lives to help save others from burning buildings. If we can let go of the overriding importance of “me” and not lose sight of the concept of “we” we could be nearer to achieving a lasting peace.