Respecting each other
The Parsha of Bechukotai contains the tragedies and punishments that G-d threatens to bring upon the Jewish people if they stray from the dictates of the Torah. The section is introduced with G-d’s words, “Im bechukotai timasu” (if you find my laws disgusting).
This language seems absurd and extreme. There may be non-observant Jews, but do they really consider the mitzvot disgusting? Inconvenient and troublesome perhaps, but disgusting? Surely not! Rashi addresses this question by stating that this phrase refers to people whose disgust is directed towards those who perform the mitzvot diligently, rather than the mitzvot themselves.
How often do we hear snide remarks being passed about those who are extra meticulous in their observance of mitzvot? Does her skirt really have to be that long? Is our kashrut not good enough for him? Rather than admiring the conduct of the observant, it’s met with cynicism, ridicule and, yes, even disgust.
Don’t we realise that by mocking our brothers and sisters for their conscientious level of observance, we are, in fact, scorning G-d Himself? It’s Hashem who gave us the Torah and commanded us to observe the mitzvot to the best of our ability – “And you shall love [by fulfilling the mitzvot out of love] Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.”
We honour Hashem by honouring His followers. We show respect to the Torah by respecting its adherents.
Of course, the respect must be mutual and reciprocal. The more religiously observant, who ought to have internalised the teaching “to love your fellow as yourself” should, too, show tolerance and understanding of the less observant.
Although we have just celebrated Lag B’Omer, the day was but a reprieve. We (the South African Ashkenazi community) haven’t yet concluded the mourning period of Sefirah. We still mourn the plague that killed the students of Rabbi Akiva – a plague occasioned by the students’ failure to accord proper respect to one another.
It may be part of our history, but the message of the plague should ring loudly in the present. Be tolerant, be respectful!
In the couple of weeks leading up to Shavuot, let’s commit ourselves to show greater respect, sensitivity, and tolerance towards each other. Let’s strive to replicate a time past, where, at the foot of Mount Sinai, our ancestors stood, in the words of Rashi, “K’ish echad b’lev echad” (like one man with one heart).
Like one body with one heart, let’s realise that each of us is a limb or an organ vital to the entire Jewish body; each of us is equally important, albeit with distinct roles to play.
And, of course, let’s recommit ourselves to the Torah and rejoice in the Divine gift of the mitzvot.