While I Stand On One Foot ...
© 2011-13 S.H. Parker
Asked to summarize Jewish values in just one or two sentences, well versed Jews will quote Hillel: "What is hateful unto thee, do it not to thy neighbor." If specifically prompted "in the time I can stand on one foot," some may remember the whole story:
|A certain heathen came to
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 rod which was in his hand. When he went to Hillel, he
said to him, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is
the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn."
|Maseket Shabbat 31a|
Pressed for another one-sentence summary of the torah, many will remember:
|צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּףְ||Justice, justice shalt thou follow (better, "righteousness, righteousness you will pursue)|
Pressed for still another one sentence summary, there is yet another:
|הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַה-טּוֹב; וּמָה-יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִם-עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִם-אֱלֹהֶיךָ.||It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the LORD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.|
(The above two passages are from the Mechon-Mamre on line chumash.)
To these well-known passages, one more needs to be added:
|The Lord then spoke to Moses saying:||וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר|
|Tell the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against God, and that person is guilty,||דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ מִכָּל חַטֹּאת הָאָדָם לִמְעֹל מַעַל בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וְאָשְׁמָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא|
|(This translation from Chabad.org)||Bamidbar 5:5-6|
The Etz Chaim renders this passage as:
When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt... [italics added]
Friedman (The Bible with Sources Revealed) renders it:
|A man or woman -- when they will do any of the sins of humans, to make a breach against YHWH ...|
This pasuk encapsulates several very important principles and one of them, I think, is even more fundamental than Hillel's "do unto others."
First, most obviously, no distinction is made between men and women. Both can sin and the same rules apply to both. Equally. Without exception.
The next pasukim (verses 7:8) tell us the process:
Because the damage done can be evaluated monetarily, Torah is talking about property damage, not a sin against life. Only after making it right with the offended party:
All this is fine and well but glosses over a point of unsurpassed significance. "When someone sins against another person, s/he has acted treacherously against God." Let me say that again, wronging another person is a wrong done against God. Think about that for a moment.
My own teachers explained it this way: If you love God, you will treat God's creations accordingly; we can tell a person's feelings toward God by how that person treats God's creation.
To do wrong to another person is to act treacherously against God, to break faith with God. This is why Hillel is correct in saying "it is how you treat others;" this, "love me, love my creation; despise my creation, despise me" is the great principle of, the whole of, Torah.