Rabbi Hillel, after whom our synagogue is named, was once challenged by a non-Jew, probably a Roman, to teach him the Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel replied with a verse from this week’s Torah portion, “Love your fellow as yourself:” (Leviticus 19:19) Then he added, “the rest is commentary, now go and study.” By this he was not being dismissive of the rest of Jewish sacred text and law. Rather, he was saying, the principle seems simple, but it is not. You must study it, if you wish to live by it.
This is true of many truths in life. We know them to be true; they are simple and straightforward, but they are still difficult to live by. What would it mean to truly love our neighbor as ourselves? It would mean not gossiping about others, because we know how painful it is when others gossip about us. It would mean not being mean or cruel to others, because we know how painful it is to be on the receiving end of cruel behavior. It would mean giving others the same benefit of the doubt we give ourselves and extending the same kindness and love we show to our family members to others. In other words, it would mean filtering every action we take and every word we say through the lens of love.
This is a truly daunting task and because it is so difficult our sages have written much about the proper ways to interact with one another. Finding a kind, loving, and moral way to treat one another is really the purpose of the Jewish religion.
It is not easy, but imagine what our world would be like if we treated our neighbors with love. If we stopped, before we sent the next email, or said the next critical word and thought, would I want to receive this email, would I want to be criticized in this manner? If we treated those who looked differently than us, or who believed differently than we do with the same dignity we want to receive?
I think we would find the world and our lives transformed for the better beyond imagining.