middot responsibility besorah responsibility of a neighbor

responsibility of a neighbor

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-samaritan“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” -- Luke 10:30—36, NKJV


The context of the parable above is that Yeshua is being asked how one inherits eternal life. Naturally, Yeshua points the person asking to the Torah and asks for what guidance it gives. When coming to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” a bomb of a question is dropped: “Who is my neighbor?” One could see this as a perfectly legitimate question, or as a disguised version of, “Am I my brothers keeper.” Inherent in the question is a skepticism regarding responsibility toward another. When it really comes down to it, who am I responsible for. The parable cited above addresses this issue.

Here’s the modern version: Rueven gets mugged and the chief rabbi of the local synagogue ignores him lying on the street corner, the chazzan also ignores him, but Jeremy Mckenzie-Stern who hasn’t ever stepped foot in a shul because he wouldn’t count in the minyan anyway helps the guy out.

It would seem that the moral of the story is that this man lying in the road ought to have been considered a neighbor by the religious men, and that is certainly an active component of the parable. Yeshua takes it to a surprising place though. Yeshua asks, “which of these three do you think was neighbor to him.” His question brings out that the essence of love your neighbor as yourself is not only to consider everyone as worthy to be your neighbor. Rather, that being a neighbor is most fully realized when we see ourselves as responsible for another. Who was the neighbor? The one who saw himself as responsible for the well being of the man lying in pain on the road.

Responsibility may be the most other-centered middah.  It is uniquely useful in helping us to truly be neighbors to all who we encounter. So…be a neighbor…be responsible!

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