Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Rollins Inspired Jewish Parable: The Centrality of Love

I was inspired by Peter Rollin's parable "The Book of Love" in the Orthodox Heretic. I have felt like his parable wasn't quite what it could be, so I decided to offer my own spin on it by incorporating a bit of inspiration from Rabbi Hillel.

There is an ancient tale about a Rabbi who spoke with God in a dream. The Rabbi suddenly saw the clouds part and God himself descended from heaven. God saw that the Rabbi seemed very concerned about something. Indeed, the Rabbi had grown weary of debates about the Torah he had with other Jews, so he asked God to show him the right interpretation: “If only you would reveal to me the true meaning of the Torah, then there would be peace amongst your people, for we would all know how to live rightly in unity and in accordance with your will.” God was moved by the Rabbi’s request and summoned his angels to assemble a decisive library of books that would serve as the authoritative interpretation of the Torah for all time. When the books were written, they filled many shelves. The Rabbi was amazed at their wisdom, but also overwhelmed by the vast library that was many times larger than the Torah itself. He spoke to God again, “These are very wise books – but how can you expect any mortal person to read this library in a single lifetime? Can there really be no smaller Torah commentary than this huge library?” God was again moved by the Rabbi, and instructed the angels to summarize the library of Torah commentaries into one volume. The book they wrote was filled with profound divine wisdom, but was so enormous that the Rabbi could not pick it up. Observing the Rabbi’s struggle, God called on the angels yet again to rewrite a more manageable Torah commentary. But the angels started arguing amongst themselves about the true meaning of the Torah, just as the mortal humans had been doing for many years. When God saw this, he realized that he must complete the task himself. Rather than writing yet another book, he decided to offer a decisive oral commentary that could be taught for all eternity by mortals and immortals alike. Drawing close to the frustrated Rabbi, God whispered in his ear a single word: “Love.”

This parable illustrates the centrality of love in the Torah, as Rabbi Hillel also taught. Indeed, right in the middle of the Torah is the command, “…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). It is this command that is the sum of all that is written in the Torah. Nothing is more central than love.