A new 2018-19 series of articles shared on the roots and the prospects that unite Eastern and Oriental Oxthodox Traditions to the realm of Jewishness and Hassidism,
Compared semantics and exegetical “paysages” by archpriest Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel (Patriarchate of Jerusalem). Below the third article : “Who Is The Other”
WHO IS THE OTHER?
We love to speak of “neighbors” and systematically switch to the core verse of the Biblical commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself/ואהבת לרעך כמוך” (Leviticus 19:18). To begin with, it should be noted that the Torah does not underscore any special meaning for this verse. The Jewish and Christian traditions have reflected on a specific significance and place in God’s commandments as shown in the verse. Thus, R. Akiva (2nd c.) said that the commandment of “love your neighbor” is the major principle of the Torah” (Nedarim 9:4).
One century earlier, Hillel had presented the commandment in an interesting and reversed, negative way: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor”. He added – in a very similar way to Jesus’ statements – “This is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary” (Shabbat 31a). The commandment sounds as the Golden Rule. Many commentators declared that Hillel’s words are more pragmatic and genuine because the statement “And you shall love your neighbor” looks a bit vague and dreamy even if it seems positive. Medieval Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu showed that God responded to a request addressed by the Jewish people and subsequently to all creatures: “The Holy One said: ‘Children, I only want that you love each other and treat one another with dignity’”.
Jesus Christ was indeed very close to Hillel. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore all things whatsoever you would like that men should do to you, do even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:11-12).
In the Gospel, Jesus quoted the full commandment as stated in Leviticus 19:18 “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” in the three synoptic Gospels: St. Matthew 19:19 – 22/39 = St. Mark 12:31 = St. Luke 10:27. Moreover, it is found in Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. Intriguingly, Leviticus 19:34 states “You shall love the foreigner/stranger” as mentioned in Deuteronomy 10:19.
St. Mark has a special logon: “To love God with all the heart, all the understanding and all the soul and with all the strength and to love his neighbor as himself is more than all whole-burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33). Jesus’ answer is: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God = korbanקרבן, qarov Matzdiki/קרוב מצדיקי = He is close to me the One who justifies me” (Isaiah).
We have to note the context in which Jesus Christ mentions the Rules of “to love your neighbor as yourself”. It does not come out of a sudden. Jesus of Nazareth mentions the commandment in the three Synoptics as the natural connection with the “S’ma Isra’el- שמע ישראל/ Listen Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart (bechol levavcha- בכל לבבך), and all your soul (or life, being – uvchol nafshecha – ובכל נפשך) and all your strength (uvchol me’od’cha – ובכל מאדך= all that constitutes you as very good – tov me’od – me’od – טוב מאד מאוד\מאד\אדם = much living, Adam, a member of economic system as strength refer to “possessions, assets”; and non of us can escape from any economic system) (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Jesus combines the greatest commandment that concludes Moses’ life and became the proclamation of the Jewish faith with the “love of the neighbor as yourself” in St. Matthew 22:37 : “He said to a Pharisee: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Another question appears in another context: When Jesus is put to the stake, it is traditionally accepted that he quoted of Psalm 22 “Eli, Eli lema sabachtani – Elohi, Elohi, lama azaftani – אלהי אלהי למה עזתני” – “Oh God, my God why have You forsaken me” which implies the full recitation and quoting of Psalm 22. It is also possible to consider whether the mention by Jesus of the great commandment in its first verse only, would imply and spiritually include the whole of the “Sh’ma Israel” as it is in Deuteronomy 6 (ss. 6-9): “And the words that I command to you today take them to heart, impress them upon your children, recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind then as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet (crowns) between your eyes; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This leads to reflect on different aspects: the commandment is not vague, or only directed towards God and a sort of Divine “personal self”. It is trans-generational and includes specific instructions, in particular the office to teach God’s Reign from generation to generation.
The commandments must be observed at home (a fixed place) and on the way (when going on a journey, a trip, a pilgrimage and we know that “reglayim – רגליים” used to bring the Jewish people and the followers walk up “on leg and foot” to Jerusalem).
This means that we are able to get to a spiritual stage of consciousness, awareness that allows us to admit that reaching God’s Image and Likeness : subsequently, we can positive feelings toward our neighbor! It does not pre-suppose that we can love, or even like our neighbor. It means that God’s great commandment confirmed by Jesus Christ enables us to reach out to our very selves, our inner identity and thus to look positively to the “neighbor”.
In the Book of Leviticus, the commandment to “love the neighbor” is directly preceded by strict prohibitions against taking revenge or bearing a grudge. It is much significantbecause the humans often love to slander on the others, those who are close or far to them, paretnage or “foreigners” if not aliens. Interestingly, this iften happens when we feel that none of these victims will ever revenge.
The commandment to be good or to love the neighbor is expressed in most cultures and civilizations, in particular in the Greek culture. The same is applicable with regards to the Hindu(ist) and Mazdean traditions. But let’s focus on the Biblical background.
Now, the real problem is to understand the commandment correctly. What is the meaning of the phrase: “Veahavta lere’acha kamocha – ואהבת לרעך כמוך”? Is it: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself”? I comment the verse in English right now. In Russian, for example, “Vozliubi blizhnago kak i samogo sebia/Возлюби ближного как и самого себя”, can either refer to “neighbor as being very close to you or a person who is known as being closely (bliskii chelovek/близкий человек) “acquainted, provided, inter alia, that “close relationships” are long to be accepted and defined in the Slavic and Russian society, this from ancient days.
“R’ea – רע” is a parodox in Hebrew as in most Semitic roots: these usually include both a positive and a negative aspect. Talmud Horayot 10b states this : “Even the good which wicked men do is an evil with the righteous (= they can’t enjoy it)”; The same in Berachot 1c: “Don’t be like the fools who sin and offer a sacrifice, not knowing whether they offer it for the good they have done or for the evil”.
The precise meaning of “re’acha – רעך” is thus “your fellow”, i.e. the one who is like “your neighbor”. It suggests someone with whom we are in contact routinely. This is the way it is understood in most cases. “Fellow” implies a person that accompanies, but the word is Old Norse = Félag = Verlag = laying money to join, thus referring to the embryo of societal relationships!!!
Reah\רעה” is connected with Hebrew and Aramaic: it means “to join, welcome, gladden, rejoice”.
On the other hand, “neighbor” is not the person who is “close or near to us”. Let’s say that Scandinavian “När = close = Germ. Nah and Nächst = the thing or person that is to the closest! It does not refer to a person or proximity: some thing is near. This is found in Yiddish: “No’ent \ נאענט= Nah [English: “Nigh”], but it is not a “at hand thing or close person” It requires to make a move toward a place, a thing or an individual. Interestingly, Yiddish “Kroyv/ קרוב – = Cousin” = people who can be connected by some family or blood links, but not living closely to each other. The same is valid in Swedish: “att naa = to come near”, which means a movement. To love a neighbor can never mean to remain/stay put. It obliges to a series of psychological and physical moves.
At this point, it is possible to consider that Hebrew: “Veahavta lere’acha kamocha – ואהבת לרעך כמוך ” suggests that we love the people who are next to us. There is more: the commandment also refer to those who can cause evil or bad things, our enemies. Even if Today’s Judaism would reluctantly admit such a position as being self-evident, it would interrogate the tradition about another expression: “ger toshav – גר תושב” is either a “resident, a member of the community” or an idolater who is considered as a full foreigner. To begin with, it was Abraham’s status to be protected in all Middle-Eastern traditions.
Psalm 91 shows how demons can be overcome and how people in the desert, thus living in conditions of profound solitude, could be scared by other human beings. This fear is constant and deeply sealed in human nature. Taming then appears as a form of healing or getting to learn to be true humans.
Neighborhood or closeness is discussed by Saint Paul in the epistle to the Ephesians: “Now therefore, you are no more strangers or foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (and you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone) in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto a holy Temple of God; in whom you are also built together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”. (Ephesians 2:19-22).
In this sequence we feel the real meaning of RE’ACHA = רעך as “joined/built together” = neighbor, the one to be loved.
As a consequence, we must come to the fact that building together proceeds from a spiritual and full of faith because it is founded in the major verses of Ephesians: “That that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promises, having no hope and without God in this world: But now in Christ Jesus you who were sometimes far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
“For He is our peace, who has made both (Israel and the pagans) one and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us having abolished in his flesh the enmity (even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace)” (Eph. 2:12-14).
It sounds a bit bizarre to claim that we are able to fulfill the commandment “to love the neighbor as ourself” to the full.
Saint John’s chapter 21 on the time after the resurrection has it: Jesus speak of perfect love (Agapein/αγαπειν) and Peter answer he likes Him (philein/φιλειν). In the same verse, Aramaic has “richam/ ܪܝܚܡ = like, love with our viscera, intestines, insides”. It deals with lovingkindness and not directly the the Divine capacity of total ahavah, the plenitude of all the Divine Attributes.
In the commandment, as following the “Shma Israel”, we are merely called to understand what those we know, meet or cope with need. It is a question of humanity, emotions and dignity.
This is shown during the Byzantine Divine Liturgies of Saint John Chrysostomos and Basil the Great. The celebrant, having blessed the faithful with peace, opens the Royal Gates and says: Let’s love each other in order to confess in one spirit/soul – (Hebrew: “neehuv ish et rehu uvlev echad n’hoodeh”/נאהוב איש את רעהו ובלב אחד נודה . Slavonic: “vozliubim drug druga da edinomysliem ispovedim/Возлюбим лруг друга да единомыслiем исповемы”)
and the celebrant goes out and bowing in front of Christ icon, saying: “….the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
This sort of “love” is a verbal sign of true forgiveness as “at-one-ment”. It makes and creates us and each other as ONE BODY beyond what we can even understand because “Divine peace” overshadows all of us. Those who are present receive the One Whom we cannot see and Who keeps us alive and shared in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Now, we have to be frank . We often meet with people everyday, every week, every month, sometimes once a year. We would hardly frequent each other. We may face cruel enmity out of a sudden or on a long, at times irrationally. Love, peace cannot be reduced to our horizontality. Yes, semantically we do use them as ordinary words, verba.
One of the best opening-up movies ever is certainly the remarkable Danish film: “Gæstebud”, in English “Babette’s Banquet”. A French woman is sheltered by the time of the Restauration in Jutland, a small village of Denmark, where all the inhabitants got framed in a terrible silence, born out of religious conviction. They only can face each other in silence. The woman became a servant. One day, she won a huge fortune at the French Lottery. she was a renowned cook in Paris and she decided to spend all the money she won to prepare a “banquet, the gæstebud” for all the inhabitants and member of the local church
Joys and laughs, hospitality and conversations came out of this exceptional banquet which has been interpreted as a real theological reflection about Eucharist and the Presence of the Holy Spirit.
With regards to the faith of Israel, and subsequently the living commandments that are found in the monotheistic creeds, an interesting statement was made, in 1968, by some Rabbis: “It is precisely what Christianity brought to the world that hid Israel to the Nations”. It continues to be the case. But when we come back to our own room, just inside, let’s think of what we can positively share and do share without being able, for the moment, to speak too much of it. The Lord reigns for ever.
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