Parashat Ki Tavo
Love Is Not The Opposite Of Hate; Law Is
Law is essential to Judaism, establishing an external set of moral guidelines.
Provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which ordains Conservative rabbis at the American Jewish University.
Human beings never seem able to express all their hatred for each other. Men and women war against each other; blacks and whites, gay and straight, liberals and conservatives, city-folk and suburbanites--there is no end to stereotypes, hostility and mistrust. In response to this propensity to hate, Nobel laureate Elie Weisel organized an international conference on hate in Oslo, Norway. The glittering list of invited participants included four presidents, and 70 writers, scientists and academics.
The two questions which shaped their deliberations were, "Why do people hate?" and "Why do people band together to express hatred?" Although the speeches were beautiful and the resolutions were firm, the entire event was fairly predictable, except for their primary conclusion, which seems so at odds with common sense. Ask anyone what the opposite of hate is, and they will tell you it's love. But the consensus of these most accomplished, powerful and thoughtful people was that, "Only the belief in and execution of the law can defeat hatred."
In other words, the opposite of hate is law. The Prime Minister of Norway even bolstered that claim by quoting from the statesman/philosopher Edmund Burke (18th century England) that, "When bad men combine, the good must associate, else they will fall one by one." While this insight might be news to the largely-Christian west, it merely confirms the age-old conviction of Judaism that law is the indispensable expression of love and decency. A people abandons law at the peril of their own character, justice and survival.
The Need for Law
Our Torah portion understands that need for law, for mitzvot, insisting that, "The Lord your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul." Why is law essential to Judaism? Without clear standards of communal behavior and individual rectitude, each person is forced to fall back on their own sense of right and wrong. Without external guidelines, that sense can all too easily become simply a way to excuse ones own predilections and to overlook one's own weakness.
Halakhah (Jewish Law) provides a "second opinion," integrating the claims of conscience with the will of God and the wisdom of the sages. In addition to establishing a context for moral decision, halakhah also allows for communal cohesion. Without a binding structure for maintaining consensus, Judaism rapidly dissolves into a combination of nostalgia, good intentions and contemporary politics. No longer able to hold together a people, each individual fashions their own faith out of the inherited remains of the past, and then everybody calls their own hodgepodge, "Judaism."