This week’s double parsha returns us to Aharon’s public role as High Priest after two of his sons’ tragic death, and goes on to enumerate many universal edicts, often couched in language of ‘do x, because I am Hashem.’ The most famous of these is found in Vayikra / Leviticus 19:18: “Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge towards the children of your nation; love your neighbour as yourself, I am Hashem” (translation mine). So often, in talking about what is known more generally as the Golden Rule, the imperative is placed in the negative: ‘Do not treat others as you yourself would not wish to be treated.’ Or, in the abstract positive: ‘treat others as you would want to be treated.’ In a fresh take, to my eyes, the Sforno interprets the law as follows: “Love about your neighbour what you would have loved about yourself had you been in your neighbours’ place.” (Sforno on 19:18). This really grounds this most famous of biblical verses in a way that can change our actions. We all feel better ascribing to a moral code that includes an edict like the Golden Rule. How to live by it rarely comes up. The Sforno here is pushing us to live this command. Treating others nicely falls far short of the goal. Loving others does not even encompass what the Sforno thinks the verse is saying. Rather, a great amount of imaginative empathy is required. First, we must put ourselves in others’ shoes. Then, we must think deeply about what our fears, needs, and aspirations might be if we were living another’s life. Finally, we then must strive to act in accordance with that calculation, loving others just as we would want to be loved in their situation. I think that the greatest obstacle to fulfilling this understanding of the command, as opposed to a more surface reading, is how well I would have to know someone before being able to accurately assess the love that another person needs. If nothing else, this reading calls for cultivating deep relationships in order to love others as they truly desire, and deserve, to be loved.
First requires us
To know the other