I am 41 years old, thank you very much, and I must admit that at mid-life I have a few regrets. One is that when I was a kid I dropped out of Hebrew School and did not have my Bat Mitzvah at 13. Another is that I quit the piano. Still another that I never got to be a member of the Mickey Mouse Club. Well, some things we have control over and some things we don't. I may have missed the Mickey boat and perhaps I'll get back to the piano some day. For now, with my husband and children's encouragement, I am going back to get the religious school training I missed out on as a kid.
Better late than never.
What I most love about seeking out my religious heritage at this point in my life is that I find it very validating and life-affirming. Having already committed myself to a profession of peacemaking, it tickles me to now learn that peacemaking and "repairing the world" are purportedly some of G-d's greatest concepts. Since it is what I endeavor to do each day in my mediation and collaborative law practice, I think it is great how we are supposedly commanded in Psalm 34:15 that we should “seek peace and pursue it.” And where it says in the Bible that "happy (or blessed) are the peacemakers," I can attest that it is true. Helping people get along makes me so much happier than when my job was to fight cases and win at any cost. I feel very blessed indeed!
As with any school, there is homework. My religious school assignment for this week is to write a report about some readings from the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). There are some teachings in Leviticus that get me all revved up, such as the following:
1. "Do Not Stand By While Your Neighbor's Blood is Shed." Leviticus 19:16;
2. "Do Not Hate Your Brother in Your Heart." Leviticus 19:17;
3. "Do Not Take Revenge or Bear a Grudge Against a Member of Your People" Leviticus 19:18;
4. "You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself." Leviticus 19:18; and
5. "You Shall Love [the Stranger Who Resides Among You] as Yourself." Leviticus 19:34.
What I like about all of these teachings is that they get back to The Golden Rule. (Not whomever holds the gold gets to make the rules, but rather "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.")
It was Rabbi Hillel that was once challenged by a "heathen" to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. The famous story goes that this person came before Hillel and told him he would only become a believer if Hillel could teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel is said to have taken the challenge, stood on one foot and replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it."
Mediation is about helping other people by empowering them to solve their own problems in a peaceable way and get on with the living of their lives. It is also about getting people to help themselves and to help the very people they might have trouble getting along with. By the time people are ready to get divorced or file a law suit, chances are they have built up a lot of grudges and are having a difficult time letting go and "loving" the person they are fighting with as they love themselves. The concept of not hating your "brother" in your heart obliges us to deal openly and matter-of-factly with the person we are angry with. This is so anger does not fester, turn into hatred and grow. Anger and hatred cloud our thinking, making the task of dealing rationally and in everyone's best interest seem insurmountable. In mediation, we are able to address the angry feelings that may be festering. As we address them, we are able to resolve the issues that are keeping us from moving forward and getting closure. Apparently, there is an old Jewish proverb that goes, "Hatred makes a straight line crooked." We've also heard angry people express how they were seething with so much anger that they "couldn't see straight." When in the throes of these difficult feelings, it is a challenge to make the good choices that will keep us from saying or doing something we will regret later. However, it is worthwhile to make the good choices and, if it helps us, to re-read those teachings about brotherhood and loving others as yourself and whatnot. Yes, I think those old rabbis may have been on to something.
It may not be easy, but obviously, if we ourselves were to be the target of someone's rage, we would want for the angered person to treat us fairly, give us a chance to explain or apologize and correct our mistakes. Isn't this after all what all of these teachings have in common? What if you were the stranger in the strange land? What if you were the person who made the mistake? What if you were the neighbor who needed a hand? Or the spouse who needed to be forgiven? What if it was you?
The Torah teaches that it is indeed you; that we are all one and G-d is one with us. You are your own brother, your own neighbor and, having been placed on this earth, a chip off the old holy block. If we are to believe that we are all made in the image of our creator, then if you hurt another person--be they family, friend, stranger or foe--you hurt yourself. So stop hurting yourself. Start loving yourself. You can even do it standing on one foot.