Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
Jewish law is commonly broken down into two groups. Laws which link us to G-d (bein adam laMakom) and laws which govern interpersonal relationships (bein adam lechavero).
To wit, the ten declarations (aseret hadibrot) is often split vertically. The first five statements are associated with our commitment to G-d, the second five with our commitment to man/woman.
So rigid, is the tradition of this demarcation, that a second model emerged.
When Avraham (Abraham) is visited by G-d after his circumcision he sees three visitors. Running to greet them, he, according to this view, asks G-d to wait as he welcomes his guests. "From here, " the Midrash says, "we learn it is more important to greet guests than receiving the presence of G-d."
Concerned that bein adam lechavero would be viewed as less important, this Midrash, suggests that it is more important.
There is however, yet another model. It insists there is no demarcation - that each of these categories of laws interface.
Bearing in mind that every human being is created in G-d's image (tzelem Elokim), it follows that the way we conduct ourselves toward our fellow person, impacts directly upon G-d. If I bring joy or sorrow to another, I bring joy or sorrow to the tzelem Elokim within that person.
Kli Yakar (Rabbi Ephraim Luntshitz), makes this point by insisting that the aseret hadibrot be split horizontally rather than vertically. For example, "Thou shalt not murder" is opposite belief in G-d, as murdering the other means that the image of G-d as manifested in the victim has been obliterated.
The flip side is also true. Jewish ritual, commonly associated with our relationship to G-d invariably connects us to other humans and in fact is the pathway to Torah ethicism. Hence, before prayer there is a tradition to give charity, and virtually all our prayers are in the plural.
Our portion bears this idea out. It states: "Six days you shall do work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your ass may have rest and the son of your handmaid and the stranger shall be refreshed." (Exodus 23:12) In other words, Shabbat is the great equalizer - all people whatever their station, rest - a noble attempt to give dignity to all. Extraordinary. Shabbat, which heretofore is only mentioned as describing our relationship to G-d - as G-d rested on Shabbat, so do we - is here fashioned in terms of interpersonal ethics.
In one word: By loving your fellow person one can love G-d. And, through loving G-d, one can acheive love of his fellow human being.
©1997. Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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