Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
In Parashat Kedoshim, we read; “Lo tikom v’lo titor et b’nei amecha v’ahavta l’rei-echa kamocha ani Adonai” (You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; and you shall love your neighbour as yourself - I am Adonai.” [Leviticus 19:18])
The Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat, teaches us that when a potential convert approached Hillel and asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot, Hillel summarised as follows; "That which is hateful to you do not do to others. This is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn." - surely there should be a more comprehensive view to the “entire Torah”.
How could Hillel expect that his explanation would suffice? What about all the mitzvot, all the prophets, all the major events, the blessings, the messages and the morals that we learn from the Torah? How could he just say; "That which is hateful to you do not do to others. This is the whole of the Torah. All the rest is commentary."?
Let’s look more closely at exactly what the potential convert asked, and then let’s re-examine Hillel’s response. The potential convert asked to be taught the entire Torah while Hillel stood on one foot. In this situation, it is unreasonable to expect Hillel to have given him a 4-hour discourse just on the basis of the Torah, and its teachings. Hillel had to respond in such a way that not only would it have to be short, so that he could answer while standing on one foot, but his response would also have to be suitable and accurate.
Hillel’s response explained to the potential convert that he would have to behave in a manner that would put him in an appropriate frame of mind to study Torah. They would have to show dignity, respect and consideration for others. After all, that is how you would expect a Torah scholar to behave, by treating others with the same dignity, respect and consideration that they would show themselves.
The text from this week’s parasha; “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” is all about attitude. How you treat those in your immediate family, group, community and society is, in many ways, reflective of your opinion of yourself.
It’s amazing how perception can have such a powerful effect, whether it is a positive or a negative perception. Reflecting on Hillel’s advice, we see that it’s more than just a prominent quote from the Talmud from one of our great sages. It is also a lesson on how to approach the greater aspects we encounter, by simplifying the task, putting the assignment into perspective, and making it that much easier, instead of complicating the task, causing a great deal of panic, and making life much more difficult.
Just imagine how differently we would look to undertake a daunting task, such as teaching the entire Torah, whilst standing on one foot, if Hillel had said; “Sorry, that’s impossible”, or “please ask someone else to perform that task, I am not willing to attempt such a complicated task”.
When we show others the same respect that we would show ourselves, and take into account their needs and thoughts, perhaps we too can make a more positive change to our families, our communities, and to the world.