Our double Torah portion this week contains a section of Torah known as the holiness code. In it are a diverse range of laws governing every aspect of our lives, guiding us to live with compassion and care for ourselves and those walking the path alongside us. And there, embedded in the code is the famous passage “love your neighbor as yourself.” This commandment has generated a large amount of commentary grappling with who the neighbor might be and what, if any, our connection should be in order to classify a person as our neighbor. Usually we read this commandment as referring to neighbors who are physically and emotionally close to us, those with whom we share a relationship. But “love your neighbor as yourself” could be read in a different way: to “love your neighbor who is LIKE you” the one who is “as yourself.” If that is so, the command is simple, it is quite easy to love those who are like us, those who share the same outlook, values and approach. When we find places of commonality it is easy to connect, to like and even love one another.
One of our rabbinic commentators though suggests a different reading of “Love your neighbor who is like you.” He suggests that we should not read it narrowly as one who shares tastes, opinions, occupation or lifestyle, but rather one who is like you because they too are created in the image of God. According to this interpretation, every other human being is our neighbor because we share a common humanity. We are then challenged to love them because of that connection. To love their differences and their similarities, to find a place where we can reach out and connect with all people. The challenge then is to like, care for and find the beauty in those who are different from us. And this is far more difficult. Interfaith dialogue, for example, is easy when we talk about he ways in which we are similar but is far more challenging when we try to tackle the more contentious issues. But unless we do, we are not loving the fullness of the other, we are loving only the parts of ourselves we see reflected within them. It is the same in our lives, our communities, our country. We must challenge ourselves to love our neighbors, not only those who are the same or similar to us. And if we do so, we will create a more harmonious, beautiful whole which, as we try to do in our community, celebrates diversity and commonality.