Over the past few weeks, there’s a phrase which I’ve kept on hearing.
”It is your duty as a Jew…”
Often, it’s followed by heavily biased, intrinsically political polemics. It’s my duty as a Jew to vote for this or that, to support this or that, to protest this or that. And unfortunately, it’s usually a display of division. Of segregationism. Accompanied by snide remarks about my ‘brand’ of Judaism- a brand I never professed to belong to, a brand which they think I belong to because of my clothes, my siddur, the words I speak. But I digress. As a Jew, I do have duties. But what are these duties? Hearing the phrase so regularly has led me to ponder what exactly my duties really are- and actually, I don’t think they’re political.
It’s neater to just choose one duty. But there are so many. Following the halachos. Doing good deeds. Studying Torah. Which is it to be?
I think that my duty as a Jew- my actual duty, not some imagined one- is to show Ahavos Yisroel. That basically means love for my fellow. Because this covers all three of the examples I mentioned above- we have a collective responsibility to follow Hashem’s will, and when one of us transgresses, we all suffer. So when I break laws, everyone pays the price. Thus, it’s within ahavos Yisroel to keep the mitzvos and study Torah. And good deeds are an expression of love- just as ahavos Yisroel is, in turn, an expression of love for G-d. So it seems like there’s an easy answer to the question of ‘What are my duties as a Jew’- but isn’t there something missing? What about non-Jews?
I’ll be honest. There are some halachos regarding love, hatred and loshon hora (slander) which apply only towards Jews. For example, it’s forbidden to hate another Jew, but this doesn’t apply in exactly the same way to non-Jews. This seems slightly wrong and slightly behind-the-times. Maybe it’s racist, even. But today, I watched a video of the Rebbe in which he discussed this topic, and it made me think of a solution to the ‘racism problem’. It was a quote I read on Chabad.org; ‘A chossid is one who goes beyond the letter of the law, to the spirit of the law’.
How is this relevant? Well, maybe the letter of the law only forbids hating Jews. But if we go beyond that, what’s it really saying? Don’t hate. And thus, my duty as a Jew can be summed up in one word. No, it’s not about voting or protesting. It’s about love. It’s my duty as a Jew to love others.