A New Heart & Spirit
A New Heart & Spirit
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
(adapted from an essay by Rabbi Lyon)
The news is often filled with hate and indifference. It can be caustic and destructive. The antidote often begins with “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18). It’s a Golden Rule that originates in the Holiness Code in the Hebrew Bible and is cited in the Christian Bible, too. As a Golden Rule, it’s meant to fulfill our relationships with others by modeling God’s love for all of us. But it fails as an ideal when we do hate, and when we are indifferent. I recommend that we address these ills first before we work on love. Before we can love authentically and faithfully, we need to clear our heads, our hearts, and our souls. Jewish teachings from meaningful sources are good place to begin our process.
“They who hate their neighbor are as if they hate God” (Pesikta Zutarti Beha’alotekha)
On this teaching, we learn that God is Creator of all creations; every human being is God’s handiwork. When we hate our neighbor, we insinuate that God’s handiwork is unlovable and unworthy. Are they unlovable or unworthy? Are we? Should we judge our neighbor before God judges them?
“Companions who do not love each other will leave the world before their time” (Zohar ii, 190b) Zohar, a source of Jewish mysticism, explains that companions or friends who fail to love are fated to lose their life. God is life. God is love. Love between people is life, too. If mysticism fails to compel, then consider that failure to know love can leave us without a future where others grow and thrive, because they love. Alone, we wither and fade from sight and meaning. We might be alive, but what kind of life is it? Love is at the root of our well-being.
“If two people need your help, and one is your enemy, help your enemy first” (Baba Metzia 32b) The Talmud explains that while a friend knows you’ll be there, an enemy’s heart can be turned and become a friend, too. More friends increase love and life for a more peaceful world.
“The Temple was destroyed because of unfounded hatred” (Yoma 9)
The Temple that was destroyed by Roman legions in 70 CE, was already on its way to collapse. History teaches us that the Jewish people had grown divided over authority, rules and power. “A house divided falls in on itself,” and so it did. For the sake of our people and our contemporary conflicts, history’s lesson is apt. Unfounded hatred that distracts from love, holy matters of Torah, and faithfulness destroys everything that was ever built to honor such glories.
In our Jewish texts, we find enduring values that speak to us exactly when contemporary sources of information and wisdom are inadequate or fail us completely. The difference is that our Jewish texts are mindful of God, as the source of life and its purpose. When we study them well and strive to live by them, we become quicker to “know before Whom we stand,” and better able to approach our neighbors, even if they’re strangers, with the goal to make them friends. The prophet Ezekiel (18:31) said, “Cast away from yourselves all the transgressions you have committed, and fashion for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” Indeed, let’s begin by acknowledging that sometimes we do harbor hate. Then let’s cast it away in favor of a “new heart and a new spirit,” for the sake of love and life.
The Jewish New Year 5783 begins Sunday evening, September 25, 2022. It’s time to prepare for a Sweet New Year.