5/6 May: Shabbat Acharei-Kedoshim comes in 8.16 pm, goes out 9.27pm
Parashat Acharei-Kedoshim contains the Holiness Code, a set of religious and secular laws, including matters pertaining to agriculture, testimony, social ethics, and certain rituals associated with sacrifice. These include the obligation to judge fairly, to reprove one’s neighbour, to love one’s fellow human being, to not degrade one’s daughter by making her a harlot.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) records a dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Azzai concerning the identity of the most central ethical principle of Judaism. Rabbi Akiva quotes Leviticus 19:18, “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It sounds good. Yet, Ben Azzai selects a different verse, “this is the book of the generations of man…in the image of God was he created” (Genesis 5:1). Why does Ben Azzai choose a different verse?
The Talmud explains that Akiva’s verse is subjective and personal. Some might say “since I have been demeaned, let my fellow be demeaned with me” or “since I have been reviled, let my fellow be reviled with me.” Ben Azzai’s position removes the subjectivity of morality by appealing to common origins and history.
When we don’t feel in the mood to love our neighbour, we can turn to our shared origins and history as a people and as Jews. The reality of a shared past can help us recover our respect for others. For that reason, Ben Azzai argues the Golden Rule is “this is the book of the generations of man…in the image of God was he created.”
Rabbi Paul Arberman