Probably the most famous saying in the Bible is:
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
It’s a passage that everybody likes to quote. But only few know how to put in practice.
In every reader’s mind the question naturally comes up: “Who is my neighbor?”
Rabbinic answers to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Rambam interprets it like this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” claiming that our “neighbors”, our friends, are only Jews who keep the rabbinical tradition and no one else. Everyone else is to be hated, according to the Talmud. Rambam, the rabbinical tradition and even today’s rabbis incite hatred against whoever is different. Here are some examples:
Rabbi Bagdadi says:
“Do you have an animal? Don’t leave it with a Gentile, he will come and rape your animal, according to the Talmud.”
“The Gentile is not really a human being.”
Rabbi Tzadik, Priest of Lublin, claimed:
“Only Israel is called ‘human’. In comparison to Israel all the Gentiles are anyhow like beasts that just look human.”
“The gentiles are like beasts, a people similar to a donkey.”
“The Gentiles have neither spirit nor soul and are not even equal to animals considered clean, but rather lower than them.”
What the Bible says about Gentiles and strangers
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the Judaism of the Sages contradicts the Judaism of the Bible. Since the Torah commands:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Maybe someone should remind the rabbis that Melchizedek, King of Salem, a Gentile, receives in the book of Genesis a higher position than Abraham. Abraham, gave him a tithe of all his possessions. In Exodus, we read about another Gentile, Jethro, a Midianite priest, who receives a higher position than Moses. And Moses does whatever Jethro tells him. Osnat, Joseph’s wife, a Gentile. Zipporah, Moses’ wife, a Gentile. David’s grandmother, Ruth the Moabite, a Gentile.
We could continue with more names but you for sure got the idea. By the way, we owe it to the Gentiles’ generosity, Christians that love Israel, that today we have a strong nation and army.
Yeshua’s answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?”
But is Rambam’s interpretation correct? Whoever watched the last episodes of “Seinfeld” surely remembers that they revolved around a law called “Good Samaritan law”. According to this law, in Europe and in the US, each citizen is obliged to help anyone in distress.
Most people don’t know that the term “Good Samaritan” comes from the New Testament.
In the New Testament we read about a question the religious leaders asked Jesus, testing him: “Who is the neighbor that I need to love?” Jesus’ answer later became one of the most famous parables in history, the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“A lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
And he answered,“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
Jesus, as opposed to Rambam, gave an interpretation that is contrary to the rabbinical tradition. But first of all we need to understand how revolutionary his teaching was.
For in the rabbinic tradition at that time, Samaritans were viewed in the same way as the Arabs are viewed today. According to Jesus we are to love everyone. Also the Samaritans. Or for us today, also the Arabs. Jesus taught that it is no sign of wisdom if we only love those who love us back. Or to love only those who are similar to us. Wisdom is to also love the one who is different, strange, and even to love our enemy who does not love us. This is not a political statement but rather a theological explanation of God’s character. God loves everyone. He created us. Jews, Arabs and every other nation. Also today, we need to distinguish between the person and his ideology. For example, we do not doubt that Islam cultivates diabolic ideologies that are wrong and that we need to reject. Jesus taught, that we need to love everyone. Including Muslims. Since they too were created in God’s image. The point Jesus was making in this parable was that God dislikes the classes, boxes and religions that we, humanity, create. And that we need to relate to and love everyone equally, even focusing on the weak, the rejected and the different.
Yeshua practiced what he preached
Jesus despised the fact that men create for themselves a certain status in God’s name. He couldn’t stand it that people admired and kissed the hands of the religious leaders and he did not believe that money can buy access to heaven. Jesus emphasized relationships. The way we relate to the ones around us. The same goes for today. Whoever reads the newspaper can see how well religion and money go hand in hand together. Rabbis, priests and other religious leaders sell salvation, talismans, prayers and odd blessings for money, a lot of money, coming normally from the poor and the desperate. Jesus, however, did not only exhort with words, but also practiced what he preached. He loved simple people, those who had been rejected and disregarded by the religious establishment. On our behalf the Messiah gave not only two Denarii, but the most valuable thing… his own life, so that we might live.
The man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was stripped, beaten up and left to die. So did we strip Jesus, not only of his clothes, but also of his glory. We beat him and left him to die. But in the death of the righteous Messiah we, the sinners, receive forgiveness and absolution. Jesus gave us the perfect example for the command “And you should love your neighbor as yourself”, by giving his own life for us, his neighbors. He taught that:
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
He also put this teaching in practice. Now, ask yourselves the following question: Would the world be a better place to live in according to Rambam’s interpretation, a world where each one loves and cares only for the one who thinks, acts and believes the way he does?
Or, according to Yeshua’s interpretation, a world where everyone brings sacrifices and loves not only foreigners that we don’t know but even our enemies.