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The Systems of the Jewish Year


By Rabbi Sender Haber

Moshe taught us the fifty one mitzvos found in this week’s parsha. He began with the commandment: “Kedoshim Tihiyu’ – You must be holy.

We are all familiar with holiness. Hopefully, we’ve been in contact with holy individuals, experienced holy times and visited holy places. Moshe taught us that this was not enough. We all need to be holy.

One of the themes in the Parsha “V’ahavta L’reiacha kamocha”. We need to love our friend as we love ourselves. We hear about this mitzvah so often that we sometimes don’t think about its simple meaning.

Rabi Akiva taught that there is an exception to this halacha: when our lives are in danger. If there is only one cup of water in the desert or one parachute, we may keep it for ourselves. He proves this from the verse ‘V’chai Bahem’. The Ramban points out that Rabi Akiva had to source his leniency because the simple understanding of the commandment to love someone else doesn’t seem to have any exclusion at all.

Aristotle held that it is possible to keep our minds clear of emotion. We could have neutral feelings about a person. Abarbanel explains that the Torah disagrees. Either you love someone or you hate them or you are very mixed up. Our hearts are small and life is short so rather than complicate our hearts with conflicting emotions of love and hate, the Torah tells us to keep it simple. Just love them. You can be annoyed, impatient, and unappreciative. But you need to love them.

We are at a point of the year where Rabi Akiva’s message is particularly important. We don’t listen to music or get haircuts because Rabi Akiva’s great students passed away. These students were the cream of the crop, but their failure to show proper respect for each other made them unfit to be the next link in the chain of Torah scholarship.

It’s easy not to listen to music and not to get a haircut. The tough part is remembering why we are mourning and working on respect for each person.

I once read an article about my brother-in-law’s father. He was born in Shanghai and recently went back to visit. He related how at his birth and Bris, which was on Yom Kippur, all of the refugees celebrated. They had no food, no family and no country, but they were excited about the idea of more life and a new generation. They named him Chaim – Life.

We need to remember that everyone is a part of the world that we enjoy. We can usually think of a reason to love them, but even if we can’t – they are life. They are another Neshama and we need to spend the next six weeks remembering that every time we miss our favorite music.

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