Three Words Will Change
by Zev Kedem
There is an ancient three-word message in Hebrew V’AHAVTA L’REICHA C’MOCHA that translates to “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s a command, not a suggestion.
VAHAVTA – “You shall love” comes from AHAVAH – “LOVE”. It’s not “love is good”; it’s a command, a discipline to love. And it’s a contractual discipline. A contract between God and man to love.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a statement of equality, a statement of equality where the sanctity of human life comes first.
If I love my neighbor as myself, then I must not kill him and he should not kill me. My life is equally sanctifying as his and therefore, we are more committed to protect human life. Also the neighbor is not just family, but is the stranger as well. The command to love applies to everyone.
Within those three words we have a social strategy that leads to the next issue. If I love my neighbor, I cannot steal from him. I can’t take his property. I can’t impose my will on him. He is free and he may act freely. And remember, in this we have no difference.
God gave man free will and this is a part of free will: “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a discipline. It is a discipline that, without the love and fear of God , is without value.
Now, if you check the 10 commandments and compare them to the meaning of V’AHAVTA, you’ll find that “Love God” is the first commandment and the rest of the commandments are encapsulated within the message of the three Hebrew words.
And lo and behold they appear in the New Testament! And lo and behold, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is also the most important commandment of Christ’s. It is a social message that brings closer our religions.
It is a bridge and how does it work? This discipline overrides the naturally selfish human behavior, helps to postpone the urge that satisfies instant gratification, bringing long-term reward that sanctifies human life, advances peace and improves the quality of daily life.
And lo and behold, we discover this today: that Judaism and Christianity both hold as a supreme command, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. However, these words appear absent in the 3rd monotheistic religion. Considerable research of the Koran does not find the commandment in the holy book of Islam. And it appears that this commandment has far-reaching social implications, in terms of democracy, individual freedom, GDP, health and quality of life that are on record in the United Nations information sources.
Now, we are all God’s children and that included Islam. Yet there is substantial contrast in quality of life between religions. Does that make God prejudiced? Or could it be that the social strategy, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” has such vast implications? I am not here to defend God, though I’m convinced that God is above all prejudice.
Social strategy, the relationship of one-man with fellow man based on the Biblical commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” is the moral and cultural basis of Western civilization. Democracy, personal freedom, civil rights, all the good things we took for granted until September 11th , originate in the command to love.
The image of God reaching out to man (and in agreement with Ben Cohen’s comments) is the contract between man and God. And the contract is: I will love you unconditionally but you must love God unconditionally. By loving God unconditionally by repetitive habit of loving God, man will develop the habit of loving his neighbor. Without the discipline and habit of love, man will always fall back to the greed and aggression of the animal within.
Book of Books
“Love thy neighbor as thyself” only appears in Leviticus 19:18, yet Abraham by his deeds, is the ultimate hero, the revolutionary who established the culture of life, without proclamations in Genesis. He like our friend, DeWayne Coxon, proved by deeds that he was the blessing to future generations.
Abraham lived thousands of years ago. How can we test the impact of his ‘culture of life’, encapsulated in the social strategy “V’AHAVTA L’REICHA C’MOCHA” on the Bible?
We may choose any story in Genesis and test against the philosophy “love thy neighbor as thyself” — and will find that the Bible consistently sides with the commandment, while the negative characters in the stories resort to animal instincts and fail. When we read the Bible from the “V’AHAVTA” perspective, the moral and culture impact is unmistakable.
This magnificent Book has shaped Western civilization. In an odd way, it recognizes human imperfections and at the same time, it is a historic record of an imperfect nation, constantly torn between instinctive behavior and the needed discipline of “Love thy neighbor”.
For thousands of years, the Bible has been a steady influence in shaping modern society. No other book has had the power, longevity and the consistent usefulness of the Bible.
Why is that? Is it because it is a repair manual for the imperfect and unchanging human condition?
As an analogy: the repair handbook of a three-year-old broken down computer is of little use to the owner. Yet the Bible is as useful today as it was thousands of years ago. Surely because it continues to help improve the imperfect and unchanging human condition to the present day.
Books have been written for thousands of years. There is only one Book that has maintained its popularly for all this time.
In addition, the Bible saved my life. More specifically, when painful reality seemed more brutal than the will to live, it was the Book of Job and his unwavering faith in God that restored hope and returned me to celebrate life.
The Bible recounts the imperfect ways of man. Archetypal Biblical characters confronted my situations and contradictions of the imperfect human condition, and are still a useful example to relate our problems and moral dilemmas today, 3,000 years later. Again, what I love about DeWayne Coxon is that he turns words into practice. He is an excellent example. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a strategy of deeds, reaching out across different religions, and helping neighbors. By his actions, he reaches your thoughts, leads to more spiritual life and brings us all closer to God, and in improving the world.
I use my spare time to work out the contradictions of the Holocaust and God. Not conveniently discarding God, but searching for God, as I have no doubt from the Holocaust that life without God is worthless. V’AHAVTA! Amen! -