A devout Jew heard of another devout Jew asking his rabbi if he should fast during YK, due to a medical condition that required fluids and some food each day.
“Rabbi,” the first one said, “aren’t you being too maikil, too lax, by allowing someone to eat during this Holy Day?”
“On the contrary,” said the Rabbi, “I’m very machmeer, strict about saving lives|”
Twice in this week’s Torah reading, which contains Moses’ retelling of the Aseret haDibrot, the 10 commandments, as well as the verses which make up the first paragraph of the Shema, we are warned, hi-shameir lecha, u’sh’mor nafsh’kha m’od, “If only you will guard yourself, and guard yourself well.” What follows is the admonition to remember what God has done for the Israelites; taking them out of Egypt, protecting them in the wilderness and now, bringing them to the edge of the Promised land, and to remember and observe (another meaning of the word, shomer) God’s commandments, so they will live long on the land and prosper.
Wrapped up in all of the commandments regarding what animals to eat and not eat, not mixing flax and wool in a garment, observing Shabbat and not worshipping idols or other gods, are commandments about how we behave towards other people, and how we treat ourselves. What’s often been morphed into the “Golden Rule,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Lev 19:18) means much more than “Do unto others, etc,” or God would have just said, “love your neighbor.” Adding kamocha, “like/as yourself,” requires that first we must love ourselves; only then can we begin to love-whatever that means–another person.
I’m not talking about vain, narcissistic love or conceit; I’m speaking about a love that says, “I’m a worthwhile person because I was created in the Divine image. And if I love you like I love myself, then I see God’s face in yours, and that makes you worthy as well.” Emotionally healthy people in positive, healthy relationships embody this. Problems start when someone feels unworthy and that their life has no value. And as a result, don’t value the lives of others.
When we love someone, we care for them, and not just in the abstract. We want them to be healthy and well, and to take care of themselves. We want the best for them. However, we have to remember that we can only care for others when we care for ourselves, and sh’mor nafsh’kha m’od means following God’s commandments regarding our physical and emotional selves.
This is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort, and the first of seven Shabbats leading up to Rosh Hashanah. During this period of time, many Jews take the opportunity for self-reflection, called heshbon hanefesh, which literally means “an accounting of the soul.” How have we treated our bodies and our brains this past year? What have we done to feed our souls, to address our spiritual selves? How can we best take care of ourselves and others in the coming year? We’ll never be without challenges, may we take comfort in the knowledge that we share the same concerns and want the same bright, peaceful future.