This week’s double portion falls approximately in the middle of Leviticus, the middle of the 5 books of the Torah. And just about in the middle of this double parshah is the commandment – ve-ahavta le-re’ekha kamokha – love your fellow as you love yourself. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Is it a coincidence that this precept deemed by Rabbi Akiva to be the core of Torah values is actually found at the centre or core of the Torah?
There are other verses preceding it that remind us of our responsibility to other humans:
You shall not steal and you shall not deny falsely and you shall not lie to one another.
You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob.
These may be obvious. But “Payment for the work of a hired worker shall not stay overnight with you until morning” reminds us we have a responsibility to remunerate those who work for us fairly and promptly. Some have suggested that the placement of this verse directly after the prohibitions against stealing and cheating implies that putting off paying your employees is tantamount to theft.
You shall not curse a deaf person, and you shall not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.
Literally and figuratively. Don’t insult someone whether they can’t hear you ever or whether they can’t hear you because they are not next to you right now. Don’t trip or trick people because of challenges they have or challenging situations you have contrived.
You shall do no wrong in justice; you shall not favor a destitute man and you shall not honor a great man; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow. Be fair. Don’t give in to the poor because you feel sorry or favor the rich because they have money or status. None of these factors should contribute to how we relate to them or treat them or judge them.
These ethical teachings lead up to “love your fellow as you love yourself,” describing for us what it means and what it looks like to treat someone as you wish to be treated. Each of the precepts ends with the phrase “I am the Lord,” reminding us that even those commandments between people are also between a person and God, that we are accountable for how we treat others just as we are accountable for the other commandments in the Torah.
When we begin the cycle of Torah readings again after Simchat Torah, our own behaviours and challenges and expectations are fresh from the repentance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now half-way through the journey, a reminder of who we are and how we are expected to relate to each other solidifies the core – the heart – of the teachings of the Torah:
Treat others as you wish to be treated.