Love your neighbor as yourself.
In a recent interview, writer and social critic Malcolm Gladwell summed up the thesis of his 2009 bestseller Outliers as follows: “I wanted people to move away from the notion of success as something individual. There is this notion of the ‘lone genius’ that is very popular in the United States. This has very little basis in reality. Since there is an incredibly long period required for the incubation of expertise, there always has to be a group of people behind the elite performer making that kind of practice possible. Every time you watch someone on stage at Carnegie Hall playing the violin, understand how many other people sacrificed to make possible the beautiful music you are hearing.”
Gladwell’s point is critical. It’s true—no person is an island. Every success that we enjoy is, to an extraordinary extent, built upon the labors of others who grow our food, weave our clothing, build our schools, clean up after us, and drive us to countless lessons and rehearsals. The notion of the autonomous self is a narcissistic lie.
Which brings us to the “golden rule” in this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim. God commands us: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Traditional Jewish commentary recognizes that this teaching raises almost endless difficulties. Who is defined as a “neighbor”? How can a feeling—in this case, love—be conjured on command? And what, per se, is the “self”? Philosopher Moses Mendelssohn suggests that this passage is not teaching us how or how much to love our neighbor at all; he translates the phrase: “Love your neighbor, who is like you.” In other words, we should act lovingly toward others because we are inextricably bound to them. We are our neighbors. Our neighbors are us. We are all part of the intricate web of nature and nurture, genetics and culture that we might also call “God.” We should love our neighbors as ourselves because who they are is an essential part of who we are becoming.
This week, consider: How can you better see your successes as the product of countless neighbors, known and unknown, over the course of your lifetime and theirs?