On One Foot, Al Regel Echad
When Hillel was asked by a convert to teach him the entire Torah al regel echad, on one foot, he said, “the essence of Torah is, ‘that which is hateful to you, don’t do to others,’ and now go and learn about the whole Torah.” One might have expected Hillel to say, “Believe and pray to the One true God,” or “Study, study, study Torah,” or a whole myriad of other things. But he chose the one mitzvah said in different words but meaning the same thing, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” meaning, be “other oriented.” Just as you value food, shelter, love, reputation, and family, so does your neighbor. Try to show respect to that which your neighbor has as well.
Of course, that is a difficult balance to strike. One cannot pay so much attention and love to ones’ neighbor that one undermines his own station or situation. For instance, a person who is generous will see another and share half with him. That person can start out quite wealthy, but in time, will end up having only a few pennies. We have to look out for number one too, after all. Hillel says it best when he says, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? And if I am just for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” The upshot: We must strike a balance between “other orientation” and “self-assertion” and we must constantly assess if we are accomplishing that balance correctly.
This same balance is at issue when our sages argue about whether Sukkoth and Shemini Atzeret are one or two festivals. On the one hand, the name of Shemini Atzeret ,“the Eighth day of Assembly,” is arguably the eighth day of Sukkot, the same holiday. On the other hand, Shemini Atzeret has its own Amidah and its own Kiddush, which mentions it by its specific name, and on that day, we need not sit in a Sukkah. This would indicate that they are two very different holidays, close together, but not the same holiday that runs for eight days.
Another basic difference is the nature of the holidays. On Sukkoth we invite people in the sukkah to celebrate, and in Temple days, offered seventy bullocks, representing the seventy nations of the world. At Shemini Atzeret we bring only one bullock and need not be gregarious with other people, but rather, find spiritual reflective moments with God privately. One holiday seems to be universalistic in nature, emphasizing the world and many nations. The other one more private and personal. In a sense, then, the dichotomy of “Universalist versus Particular” is explained with this “One Festival” (also called “regel”, and thus also “regel echad”). Judaism is this “Regel Echad,” this one holiday! As Jews we must find the right balance: looking out for number one (the welfare of the Jewish people) and at the same time reaching out to the world (working for tikkun olam; for the continual advancement of civilization as a whole). That balance is still just as hard a one to strike as it was in Hillel’s day.
This season I call your attention to opportunities to reach out beyond the pale of the parochial. Certainly continue your concern for Jewish-oriented charities, as they are important. However, we have three things we are doing this season. We are raising food again for local food pantries at Kol Nidre. Bring your non-perishable goods after Rosh Hashana and before Kol Nidre. Secondly, I hope that you will send to Project Mazon monies you would have otherwise spent on your Yom Kippur meal, had you not been fasting. With your help, millions of dollars are raised in America each Tishrai to feed the hungry and food-insecure, as a result of this project. Thirdly as constituent “Partners in Caring”–congregations partnering with the Federation and the Suffolk Y JCC–we encourage you to contribute hygiene products to send to the Bahamas. This collection will be in the Suffolk Y front lobby and ends October 3. Products such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, diapers and wipes are acceptable. Food and clothing are not. Please refer to our website (HERE) for a full list of products accepted or call the Y. What a mitzvah it is to help out the unfortunate victims of such a ferocious storm, who, in its wake, were left in such dire need. What a mitzvah to help Bahamanians, even in this small way, to manage their days until their neighborhoods are rebuilt and communities up and running.
May we always aim at finding the balance Hillel suggests for the God-fearing Jew: If I am not for myself who will be; if I am only for myself what am I? And if not now when?
Beth and I wish you and yours a Shana Tova oo metuka, a sweet year, and a Hag Sameah, a Happy Sukkoth and a joyous Tishrei.