That Is the Whole of the Law

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
I posted the above to Facebook as it cuts through all manner of bon mot about charity and pierces to the heart the matter of refugees Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 2.58.51 PM(to employ an Aristotelian view, it must be an expression of “good” as it appears in almost every human culture in one form or another). Some “Liked” the post (I can only hope they read Hebrew….) but I am sure most had no idea what it was (but didn’t ask). So what does that make me?  Harrrummmppphhhhh…..
The quote is from the Mishna, the first part of the Babylonia Talmud, Seder Moed, Tractate Shabbat, Folio 31a (translation and URL for source below). The Babylonia Talmud contains the ethical principles laid down by the rabbis, and it is the feed stock for the parables of the New Testament gospel canon. There is a generation between Hillel and his arrival from Babylonia, and the ministry of the person purportedly known as Yeshua, and some argue Yeshua was an inlaw of Hillel’s. Yeshua, who was born and who died a Jew, would have been steeped in the dynamics of Judaism of the time and the tensions between form and substance, and between assimilation and tradition. Suffice it to say, that much of the gospels are lifted from the Mishna. In fact Joseph McCabe argues that, “we are then compelled to conclude that the writers of the Gospels borrowed from the Jewish Schools most of the parables they ascribed to Jesus, and in most cases lowered or destroyed the ethical value of the parables in so doing..”

Do not allow another to be treated in a manner in which you would not want to be treated. That’s it.  That’s “good”.  Everywhere you go, throughout history. Except among Christians in the United States in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

We put Emma Lazarus’ poem (New Colossus, written as a donation for the auction to support the funding of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal) front and center so as to avoid the shame of our behavior:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
But we have long ago slammed the golden door in the faces of the wretched victims of our blind self-interest. And thinking of these self-righteous Christians, I come to think of Jonathan Edwards terrifying sermon on the text “Their foot shall slide in due time. Deuteronomy 32:35″ . They are condemned, by their own faith, as sinners in the hands of an angry god, and their foot shall slide in due time.
Hypocrisy is no foundation for any tomorrow.  Garrison Keillor is oft lampooned by the snobs of the Thinkeries, but I would like to borrow his closing and tweak it, just a bit — ‘Be well, do good, and keep in touch.’

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ [footnotes deleted]

Feingold, Henry L. Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse University Press, 1995. See Chapter 6 for a comparative discussion

One comment on “That Is the Whole of the Law

  1. Gus Falconer says:

    Thanks Merwyn, for this most enlightening clarification. My own haphazard yet persistent effort to somehow comprehend the UnChristian character of prevailing
    “Christianity” had already led me to the primacy of the Universal Divine Imperative… But to understand it as “Do not allow ANOTHER to be treated…” clarifies how the Roman Church/Empire perverted its spiritual authenticity in order to disempower the masses in service to the authoritarian interests of sociopathic power and greed.
    That which is called ‘God’ is/are the various manifestations of Love/Attraction as expressed in all realms (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) of existence. As above, so below.


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