You shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor (Lev. 19:17 ).
You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am God (Lev. 19:18).
Two friends are learning in the house of study.
One: what do you make of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” in context?
Two: You shall not hate your brother in your heart, hmmm, that’s where we begin, cleansing the heart of hatred.
One: Of course, that’s obvious. Brother!
Two: Brother! Like us.
One: You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor. Now that we understand it in context, it’s unusual isn’t it, this progression from you shall not hate to you shall surely rebuke, why would you rebuke your neighbor? What has your neighbor done? Say your neighbor is a drug addict.
Two: Oh my God.
One: Stay with me, your neighbor is taking drugs. You don’t approve. You see it, you have evidence, you may have even witnessed it yourself. It’s not a theoretical problem. You remember Benjy don’t you?
Two: Poor Benjy. Nobody knew what to do for him, so we did nothing.
One: Yeah, well that’s what we got going here. You don’t approve, you know something is wrong but you may not even know what it is, but something is not ay-yai-yai so you rebuke your neighbor.
Two: You rebuke him?
One: Yeah, you do something. You tell the truth, even at the expense of relationship, you approach him and say hey, I’m worried about you, you do this, you do that, you don’t put him down but you have got to do something. It’s not a theoretical problem.
Two: You got that right.
One: You rebuke him, because to have that knowledge and do nothing? I’m not using rebuke here in the sense of shaming him but in the sense of saying: stop. Drawing a line. Maybe even getting in his face. Hey – get some help. Or maybe even going to somebody else.
Two: Wow. What a concept. Just like with Benjy. We did nothing, and you know what? When it came down, I felt kind of. . .you know. . .responsible. I really did!
One: Yeah, so did I. You know why? Because we didn’t rebuke him. But the verse continues, don’t think that I came with just this one word to rattle in a bottle like a coin. . .
Two: Oh stop with that stuff.
One: Let’s continue with the verse, you shall not hate your brother in your heart, you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of your neighbor (Lev. 19:17 ). Not bear sin because of your neighbor, that means, like with Benjy, it was our responsibility to rebuke him, but not to bear his sin. With Benjy, sin means sickness. Because it was, after all, his problem. But there’s the rub: it’s his problem, still we are called to rebuke him, but not to carry responsibility for his sin. It’s his sickness, but still, we are called to do something.
Two: Yeah, wow, I remember with Benjy. When Judy did say something, Judy rebuked him, he turned it against Judy. Who are you, Benjy said to Judy, to get in my face? It’s my business, what’s wrong with you? he said to Judy. So Judy ended up feeling bad, bearing Benjy’s sin, but you know what? That was part of Benjy’s problem: place the responsibility everywhere but himself. I really see it now.
One: Yes, now let’s finish with our verse. Leviticus 19:18, You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am God.
Two: We rebuke, but we don’t hate, nor do we bear the sin — it’s Benjy’s problem, not ours — and when he Benjy plays us like he did? We don’t get vengeful. The guy is, after all, sick. Not only do we not get vengeful, but we bear no grudge, we don’t judge him. That’s the hardest part. As a matter of fact, we love him. We love Benjy because only out of love will come the right action. Only through love will the healing happen.
One: You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself, I am God. That’s the way of God, to know that if healing is to happen, it has to happen through love. No matter what our history is with each other, we cannot be a source of healing or help or truth or transformation for each other — because that’s what it takes with someone like Benjy, with someone like me, I’m no different from Benjy! — that’s what it takes to be a healing force in another person’s life. No expectations, no blaming, no shifting of responsibility, no avoidance, no revenge, no judgment, only the truth. And love. It has to come out of love. Only love has that kind of power to heal.
Two: That’s what we could have done with Benjy. Here’s the principle: lead with love, always. It seems so simple, but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t obvious.
One: Maybe that’s the deal with these two verses. Notice that we don’t lead with love, but we come to love, after having moved through don’t hate, surely rebuke, don’t bear sin, don’t take vengeance, don’t bear a grudge, but — love. I am God: the way of love, the true course of transformation.
One: Good session.
Two: Yeah, thanks. Be here tomorrow?
Rabbi James Stone Goodman serves Congregation Neve Shalom, and the Central Reform Congregation, in St. Louis, Missouri.