We are told to love the stranger in our midst, to insure justice without prejudice for the poor and for the rich. We are taught to take responsibility for the misfortunate… so that the poor, the orphans and the widows won’t go hungry. All of these precepts seem quite logical to a modern person. But why would we be asked to love our neighbor? And specifically, to love our neighbor as we do ourselves?
And yet, when we examine our relationships to those closest to ourselves, we realize that we have the most friction, and the most disagreements with those closest to us. When dealing with a stranger, we may have to overcome certain differences… he might not know some of the conventions that we take for granted… he might not express himself the way we’re used to… and it might be easier to take advantage of him. So we’re reminded that we too have been strangers in the past. We too have been outsiders, we too have been without connections, and we should watch out for his interest. But with our own people, it’s almost the opposite. With a spouse or a relative, with a brother or a sister, everything is known. Or so it often seems. We speak the same language. We share the same conventions. And so we have expectations.
It is our own country that we most often criticize. So often we have contempt for our own leaders, our own politicians, the religious leaders, and the clerks that manage the paperwork of the institutions we come into contact with. When we’re driving on the road, we’re appalled by the discourtesy of other drivers, and when we take a walk in a public space, we’re irritated by the litter we find, and outraged by all the advertisements. The fact that it might be much worse somewhere else in the world is no consolation for us. We expect that in our own country, among our friends, we should not have to encounter a lack of respect for nature, for innocent animals… certainly not for ourselves. And when it happens… sometimes… it makes us forget those very things that we love so much about our own society.
This is a period in our country, when we count the days from Passover to Pentecost. In the first holiday we were delivered from slavery. And in the second, we receive the rules by which we live. During this period, we grieve the deaths of many great scholars who died because they didn’t have enough respect for their fellow man. And we grieve for the mass murder of a third of our people in the holocaust. And we grieve for all the soldiers who died in wars to defend our people and our society. But we celebrate too. We celebrate freedom and independence and love, and the renewal of our ancient state. In a few days we celebrate our Independence Day with fireworks and concerts and picnics all over the country. And the very day before that, we will grieve all the soldiers who died to insure that very independence.
Recently, I showed you a picture that my father drew of the pond in the rose garden. And then I posted some photographs of the same place. The photographs shown in this post are of the same place, as my fellow Jerusalemites enjoying themselves there on a holiday. I love them, and it is a pleasure to watch the citizenry of my beloved city come out and celebrate together. But I have to admit, I was a little dismayed by the litter I saw. Ah, expectations… they can really do us in at times…