Monday, May 05, 2008


The Golden Rule

Garrison Keillor made an interesting statement in his dispatch from Lake Wobegon last weekend -- that Christianity is an extremely hard faith as it requires you to love your neighbor with no easy steps in between: no half-way point of "love some of your neighbors", etc. Just love your neighbor and love them all.

We Jews tend to think of Christianity as an "easy faith" and our own faith as a hard one (and we almost are proud masochists in our proclaimation of such). But what makes our faith hard -- all the rules and regulations -- we thank God for, in Divine Grace, giving too us. Why? Because they provide us with the tools of spiritual discipline that should ideally help us to love our neighbor.

We don't have to jump right into loving our neighbor, even though it is the central command of our faith. Rather, the very same Book that gives us that commandment, Leviticus, gives us a whole slew of duties that, as obscure and backward as they might seem, all help us to love our neighbor. Rules on tithing, not gleaning, etc., give us ways to love our neighbor. The Holiness Code, which includes the great commandment, in this last week's parsha allows us to set ourselves apart ("be holy") and thus bring out the divine within us so that we may love our neighbor as God loves us.

Leviticus is largely a priestly and not a Prophetic book. As obscure and hidebound as it seems, in some ways it is actually the most humanistic book of the Torah as it describes how we as individuals can engage with the divine and not die spiritually like Aaron's sons. Interestingly, c.f. Keillor's joke about Episcopalians in last week's PHC, those traditions within Christianity that most maintain the Priestly tradition of Judaism (often more than Judaism itself does*) do seem to provide the most stepping stones toward the goal of loving your neighbor.

A faith which just says "love your neighbor" and doesn't guide you toward that goal sets in front of you, it may be argued, a stumbling block before the blind (**) -- also from this last week's parsha. And to say "well you just have failed the impossible test, so you can't achieve salvation (of your own accord)" seems austere to the point of nihilism (c.f. Nietzsche). A pragmatic and graceful God would make it easy on us, not by exempting us from the Law as if we were mere young children, but by being a loving parent and instilling discipline in us as we grow, and to help us grow, spiritually.

In a sense, we Jews have it easier than the Gentiles (c.f. the morning b'rachos) -- we have a Law that guides us toward higher levels of spirituality and gemilus hassidim. Now the question is why (ironically in the name of being observant of Halacha) we Jews get caught up in the details of the cobblestones and don't see the Path (Halacha) that God, in Divine Love, has placed before us.

* from (orthodox/catholic) Christianity to Hassidism, Judaism has this habit of spinning off movements that are, in their beginning, ostensibly anti-clerical and anti-hierarchical but end up being hierarchical (a Jewish Pope? a Rebbe outside of Hassidism?) in a way Judaism never has been.

** a Catholic friend of mine argued "how can 'iconoclastic' Protestants be Christian -- by sending Jesus down to Earth, God made a graven image of himself, so why should Protestants protest (pun intended) when Catholics do the same?" From a Jewish point of view, though, isn't the Christian God, by making himself graven, placing a stumbling block before the blind who themselves crave images (c.f. Harrison's Hare Krishna song)?

Alberich, I've looked for a lightweight post to say this on but yours are generally so wonderfully substantive that none at the top of the page is quite right. Sorry to go off topic on such an important thread.

I'm having to suspend all blog activities, writing, commenting, maybe even reading. Thank you for having done me the honor of reading what I wrote and to have commented so substantially on it. I may be back some day, if I do I'll have cleaned out my damned computer's cookie cupboard. Maybe that's what caused the trouble in the first place. Good luck and best wishes.
Hopefully things will be ship shape soon enough and you can go back to leaving your excellent comments and blog posts. I'd planned on a few lightweight posts or two, but I've been very bogged down lately due to having to go to two conferences in a single month (I'm just back from Italy, which is a very odd country -- the egg yolks are orange and the toilet seats are rectangular) and dealing with paperwork related to a job offer. Since, I will be Assistant Prof. Alberich in a few months, I suspect my posting will be curtailed as well.

Good luck to you and best of wishes as well.
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