First Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18

The Heart of the Law

How can you be holy, as God is holy?

1 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘You shall be holy; for I YHWH your God am holy.

17 “‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

18 “‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am YHWH.

World English Bible

Let’s do a little though experiment. The first five books of the Bible are called the Law (or Torah). Assume you had the Torah was written on one continuous scroll. Now, in your mind, unwind that scroll and fold it in half so that the beginning and the end of books met on one edge. Guess what verse would be printed the crease of the other end. If you guessed Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself,” you would agree with the Jewish sages who conducted this thought experiment many centuries ago.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This injunction is not only the center point of the Law, it is the center point of Leviticus 19, the chapter that invokes the phrases “I am YHWH” and “I am YHWH your God” more than any other chapter in the Bible. Because of the use of the sacred name so many times in one chapter, Leviticus 19 is also known as the Holiness Codes. The shear repetition of the sacred name and its symmetrical use in the two phrases mentioned above called out to the reader, “Pay attention! God is speaking directly to you!” Using the thought experiment for a moment, think of the Law folded in half, forming a “v,” like a mountain. The summit of the mountain would be Leviticus 19; the names of YHWH evoked would be the beacon that drew the attention of people to the summit; the imperative to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19:18 would be the flag planned at the beak of the summit. Just from this image, you can surmise that Jewish scholars throughout the centuries have pointed to Leviticus 19:18 as THE commandment at the heart of the Law.

Obviously, the reading above cut out 13 verses, but the command to “be holy as God is holy” dovetails nicely with the imperative to love one’s neighbor in 19:18. Think of the word “holy” as that which is different from this world, as well as being close to God. How can we be different from our “dog-eat-dog” culture, and still be close to God? Simple, love your neighbor as yourself. This simple command is at the heart of the Law and the sure way to holiness.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is simple in theory, difficult in practice. How can you ease that difficulty? How can you help others despite your reluctance?