Wednesday, October 17, 2012

“Whatever man does to man, he also does to God.”–Heschel


I came across this quote in Heschel’s book Man is Not Alone  (page 207).  What a profound and yet simple explanation of what it means to “love our neighbor.”

If we embarrass, or ridicule or belittle someone – we embarrass, ridicule or belittle God. If we commit violence or are without compassion – then we have done violence to God. This is the inverse of what is attributed to Jesus in the New Testament: “as you have done it to the least of these.” But where Jesus only mentions how the good things we do are counted as if we’ve done them to God, the idea in Judaism, the idea that Heschel proposes encompasses not just the good. The idea that our selfish actions have an impact on God  should  give us pause – and force us to think of the ramifications of all of our actions – not just on our fellow human beings – but on God. It’s the very essence of intentional living – living with a purpose, infusing the every day with the eternal. Each action we take becomes an opportunity to do good – to work toward Tikkun Olam – or to work toward only a temporal agenda.

This is what I have sensed about the beauty of Judaism and learning to think “Jewishly” – it is learning to live “intentionally.” We choose to light Shabbat candles, or study Torah, or wear tallit, or eat certain foods (or not eat certain foods) in order to give meaning to the mundane. To live with purpose and to carefully consider the implications of all of our actions – whether it is to learn Hebrew or  whether we choose to cut someone off as we drive to work . . . all of our actions are important and all of them can have eternal value.

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