October 1, 2021
There is a school of thought that the most important lesson to be learned from the Torah occurs in this week’s return to the first Torah portion of the new year, Bereisheet (“Genesis”). The argument over this essential principle is found in the text of the Midrash (the traditional texts documenting the oral Torah), in Kedoshim 4:12. Here, Rabbi Akiva claims “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” from the Book of Leviticus 19:18, as the most important lesson to be learned. However, Ben Azzai responds to him that the text found in this week’s parashah, “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 5:1) is the greater responsibility.
Many of us are familiar with Rabbi Akiva’s “Golden Rule”, treat others as you want to be treated. But Ben Azzai presents a unique alternate perspective. If the story of humanity is the story of our shared origin, and we can distinctly trace back our descendancy to one single ancestor, then our relationship with each other is that of brother, sister, and cousin. Therefore, the lesson to be learned through Ben Azzai’s lens is that not only should we love our neighbor as ourselves, but we should also love every person as though they are family.
Now, I am not suggesting that if we simply treat one another as family we would achieve utopia and an instantaneous world of peace and harmony; as we all know, whether in our own families or those of friends and neighbors, families are not perfect. In fact, in this same Torah portion, we are also introduced to the first horrific murder in the history of humanity, Cain killing his brother Abel.
By including both messages in this same text Gd is teaching us that we are imperfect beings and that we are connected in a way that holds us each accountable to one another. In fact, Cain’s response to Gd following his reprehensible crime is, “am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to this question, to which Gd does not directly respond, because that is left to us to answer on Gd’s behalf, is YES! Yes, you are your brother’s keeper. Yes, you do have a responsibility toward your brother. Yes, if you can protect, support, raise up your brother then the simple laws of humanity require you to do so.
For the last year, the Jewish Federation has emphasized our “HERE” initiative. We have focused our attention and outreach to share our mission to be…
HERE for you.
HERE for our community.
HERE for our future.
This refrain was received in a very positive and much-appreciated light and could not have been timelier in a year when we faced the unknown, the extreme, and the incredibly isolating.
As the next phase of our HERE initiative, the Jewish Federation will be highlighting our STRONGER TOGETHER message for the coming year. Yes, we are HERE, but being here is not always enough. The Jewish Federation is collaborating with other local Jewish organizations and synagogues on multiple STRONGER TOGETHER programs that will highlight our Jewish community’s commitment to treat others as we want to be treated, while also remembering that we are all of one extended family.
We encourage you to visit the Jewish community calendar to see all the wonderful events, programs, and activities taking place across Jewish San Antonio and to join the community in celebrating, learning, and breaking bread together. This is the message of this week’s Torah portion because it is through actions like these that our Jewish community will be…