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Who Is My Neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?

Is it the person who lives on my block? Or is it the Jew who lives in Tel Aviv? Is neighbor defined by physical distance or instead by emotional connection?

We tend to rely more on feelings rather than distance when defining who is in and who is out. We rely on emotional nearness rather than short distance separating us from others.

The Torah proclaims: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” (Leviticus 19) If this statement were about loving those to whom we already feel close, then what would be the point of this command? The Torah cannot mean that we are to love those to whom we feel a kinship. Instead, it commands the difficult. It obligates us contrary to our feelings.

We are told to love those who are nearby but those to whom we do not feel close.

Think of those who live mere blocks from our homes, who toil mowing our lawns or who clear the tables at the restaurants we used to frequent. These are our neighbors!

On Tuesday, a Minneapolis jury found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. Many, including myself, breathed a sigh of relief that he was found guilty. Here sat someone who publicly crushed the breath out of another human being. Here sat a police officer who is duty bound to protect but instead killed.

I exhaled. At least in this brazen instance, justice was upheld. Our judicial system might deliver just punishment. Still, I find myself feeling disconnected. I am distant. I stand apart.

Who is my neighbor?

Do I identify with the Black victim whose experience is so unlike my own? Never have I been stricken by terror when police officers approach my car. Do I feel a kinship with the White police officer? Never have I brandished a gun, or a taser for that matter, to quell a dispute. The distance between a George Floyd and a Derek Chauvin is vast. The distance between their experiences and my own are monumental.

Miles separate the experiences of Black and Whites in our great nation. Even though little distance separates our lives, our feelings of connection remain thousands of miles apart. Is it even surmountable?

Can we begin to view each other as neighbors?

According to some the exact center of the Torah is Leviticus 19, the Holiness Code, and the exact center of this chapter is verse eighteen: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Until we hear the Torah’s commandment as a daily admonishment, the distance will remain vast. Repair, and true justice, will remain insurmountable.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

That is the center of our Torah. It must as well become the center of our obligations.