Do Not Do Unto Others
The Talmud recounts that a Gentile once approached Hillel with the request that Hillel convert him to Judaism. This Gentile did not want to go through a lengthy regimen of learning, so he told Hillel; “I want you to teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot”. Hillel’s response endures as a lesson for the generations.
Hillel taught this Gentile; “Do not do unto others that which you hate done unto yourself – that is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary, go and study it.”
We sense the beauty of Hillel’s teaching, but we will try to go beyond the surface and give some articulation to the depth of this basic truth.
A basic fundamental of Judaism is the concept that man is essentially good. The Bible teaches that God created man in His image which means that each and every one of us is imbued with a capability for Godliness. Yet when we step out into the world, we are confronted with the question; where is the goodness of man? Yes, there are many good people, but there are so many self-centered and evil people. Where is this Godliness that man is supposed to posses?
The fact is that man is capable of much evil. Man is capable of incorporating so much evil into his being that the spark of Godliness is completely buried. But it is still there. It can never be completely eradicated – even from the soul of the most evil person. There is always going to be one area where man is still going to be sensitive to right and wrong, there must remain one detail of the spirit which did not entirely succumb to evil. That area is when a person is hurt by others. A person could go through life without any sensitivity towards morality, justice, or a sense of right and wrong – until he or she gets hurt. When a person is hurt, their inner beings magnify every detail of the injustice, of the immorality and of the ungodliness of those that caused them the hurt. When the most evil person on earth is hurt, you will suddenly hear him or her using terms such as: “injustice”, “not fair”, “immoral” – words and concepts that would never otherwise be a part of their vocabulary. The fact is that even the most righteous amongst us are more acutely sensitive to the concepts of right and wrong when they feel the effects of an injustice. The peak of our sensitivity to God’s truth is manifested when we are hurt.
Conversely, the one area of life where it is most difficult to apply our sensitivity to truth, morality and justice, is in our own dealings with other people. The most righteous person on earth is disqualified by the Torah from serving as a witness or a judge in a case where he has a vested interest. The fact is that our love of ourselves blinds us to the truth in these situations.
Hillel was teaching this Gentile; Judaism is all about the Godliness that is already inherent in your very soul and spirit. What you need to do is to take that sensitivity to truth and morality – from the point where it burns most brightly; when you are hurt by others. Learn from those experiences – not to hate others, but rather, when you are hurt – take the opportunity to discover greater depths of understanding into the concepts of right and wrong, just and unjust, moral and immoral. Now that you have learned these concepts, apply these truths throughout your life. Allow this understanding to illuminate your life all the way to the furthest corner of your life – all the way to the point where you are naturally insensitive to these truths – to the point when you find yourself dealing with others.
This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary – go learn.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal