What's Love Gotta Do with Neighbors?
What’s love anyway? In a fractured world as so many of us from radically different backgrounds are mixed up together - can we really be expected to love each neighbor even as we differ so deeply in the ways we live our valued truths?
Before becoming the Golden Rule in Jewish, Christian and Western mindsets, a single commandment tucked into the laws of holy conduct sets the stage:
לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃
“You are not to take-vengeance, you are not to retain-anger against your kinspeople— and be loving to your neighbor. I am YHWH” (Va.19:18)
Love is often thought of as a feeling but reading this law it seems more of an action than an emotion -- it’s the manner with which we treat someone we care for. It feels more related to justice, to doing what’s ‘right’.
And who are we supposed to do this for/with? It is often evoked as a universal calling but the context here, especially if we look at the rest of the laws in this chapter, are all about ‘one’s people’ -- neighbors are the people you live with, belong to, commit to the same goals. It doesn’t mean, perhaps, love everybody.. Because that is too high a bar, even if humanistically aspirational? There’s a supportive reading for this more limited reading of the law, right from the last word: Kamocha.
Kamocha is usually translated as ‘just like you’ - love others as you want to be loved. But another reading could be - love the ones who are like you. In other words - love your people. Deal with the others as best you could? Later on in the same chapter we are told to ‘love the stranger’, often we are told to ‘love God’, and Jesus took it to the next level when even preaching for us to love the enemy at our door.
From its humble beginning here, this short verse became a central tenet and a major contribution to human thought. With time and exiles, population shuffle and cultural shifts, it likely shifted tone and meaning. Love is a battlefield and a complicated venture; Neighbors are no longer always kin and the kind of love we need to actualize may demand of us way more than those whose values we share. The commandment that once was primarily concerned with the intra-tribal bonding and identity - now calls on us to reimagine ‘we’, take the ethical and practical loving to new heights of care, grounded in the recognition of shared humanity - unless we want to plunge into the lowest, painful, all too familiar, hatred of friends who turn foes.
What does it mean for you, today, to try again and love your neighbor?
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