One of the most well-known lines in the entire Torah, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, appears in the second of this week’s sedrot.
Over the centuries, rabbinic scholars have been fascinated in particular by the use of the term ‘neighbour’ in this verse. One interpretation, offered by Safed-based 16th century scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital, is the word ‘neighbour’ goes beyond familial or national ties and pplies to all members of humanity, both Jew and non-Jew alike.
Two years ago, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, killing 9,000 people and injuring more than 23,000. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, international offers of aid came flooding in to Nepal from across the globe. Among these rescue efforts, one stood out. According to a CNN report, Israel’s total official aid delegation, discounting several private aid groups, numbered some 260 people, more than all the other aid efforts combined (excluding India).
The next-largest delegation, from the UK, numbered 68 people, followed by China’s 62 and the US’ 54. That Israel sent five times as many rescue workers as China and the US was remarkable.
The way to express love is by giving to others, and in particular through sacrificing one’s time and energy to constructively assist them. The lesson of “love your neighbour” is that the Jewish responsibility to help others goes far beyond our own community; it extends to the rest of humanity as a whole.
ω Yoni Birnbaum is rabbi of Hadley Wood Jewish Community