The generations of Adam

The generations of Adam

Hypocrisy is an ancient curse.One thing you discover in studying other cultures is that from way back in time, each has had its own way of saying that all people deserve equal consideration. Sometimes the statement is made in the negative; sometimes in the positive; sometimes in both forms.

Thus, for example, the sacred Hindu text, the Mahabharata, offers this version: "This is the sum of duty: Do nothing to others that, if done to you, would cause you pain."

From the Udana-Varga, Buddhism teaches, "Hurt not others with that which pains you."

The Torah puts it in the positive. States Leviticus 19:18, "Love your fellow as yourself." The great sage Hillel, on the other hand, preferred the negative formulation. "What is hateful to you," he said, "do not do to others." That is the sum of Torah teachings and everything else is but commentary, he added. (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat 31a.)

Christianity echoes that directly and in a number of other ways, as well, such as this iteration from Luke, "And as you would that men should do unto you, do you also unto them likewise."

In Islam, the Hadith teaches its believers, "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."

"Love your neighbor," "do unto others" — oh what a wonderful world this would be, and would have been from the first time anyone mouthed such words, if these were anything but words.

Yet the way of the world is to "talk the talk," not "walk the walk."

For Jews, of course, merely "talking the talk" is abhorrent. "You have wearied the Lord with your talk," warns the prophet Malachi. (See Malachi 3:17.)

It is "walking the walk" that is important and it is a literal requirement because that, in fact, is what is meant by the word "halachah." It comes from a root word that means "to walk." We are meant to "walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments" (see Leviticus ‘6:’) and to do so "only on the path that the Lord your God has enjoined upon you shall you walk" (see Deuteronomy 5:30).

Sadly, some people have come to view "Love your fellow as yourself" in the narrowest sense. There even is a discussion in the Talmud (and a parallel one in the Midrash) that makes this point explicitly. (See the Jerusalem Talmud/ /Tractate Nedarim/ /9:4.)

"[The Torah states] ‘Love your fellow as yourself .’ Rabbi Akiva says: This is a great principle of the Torah. Ben Azzai [disagrees. He] says: ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam [Genesis 5:1],’ this is a greater principle of the Torah."

Ben Azzai’s point seems strange. This is, after all, the opening verse in a long list of begats describing the generations that descended from the first human. That, however, is the point Ben Azzai is making: According to the Torah, all humans descend from the same single human being. All are brothers and sisters to each other. All deserve the same respect and, yes, even love.

The Christians have a name for the "love your fellow/do unto others" principle. They call it the "Golden Rule," in essence the prime directive for how to live life.

History, however, would put another name to it: Hypocrisy.

Countless examples exist, but one will suffice. When we sought to flee the Nazis, the world shut its doors in our faces. The Golden Rule proved to be made of iron pyrite. Even after the extent of the Holocaust was known, Jewish refugees found the doors shut. Thus the ship dubbed Exodus 1947 (which a British seaman re-dubbed "the floating Auschwitz")—was stopped off Haifa’s coast and its 4,500 Jews were evacuated by force back to Germany. As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum noted in another context, "outrage at the refugees’ treatment at the hands of the British resulted in an outpouring of sympathy for the refugees" that led directly to the November ‘9, 1947, partition vote giving birth to the State of Israel.

If a people are fleeing genocide, the last ones who should be turning their backs on them are the people who fled genocide. Thank God — and no doubt because of Him — Jews have been in the forefront of the effort to save the people of Darfur.

Sadly, the State of Israel does not seem to be on that same page. Not only does it turn away the Darfur escapees, it actually sends some of them back. Those who manage to enter Israel find themselves imprisoned. Roughly half the 300 Sudanese who have managed to get into Israel are spending their newfound freedom in jail.

This past week, a Knesset committee heard shocking testimony about this horrible situation.

"Many of the Sudanese came here because they thought that the Jewish spirit, the Jewish history would accept them," the Jerusalem Post quoted Tomas Karno, who it said arrived in Israel from the Sudan 11 years ago and now is an advocate for his fellow Sudanese.

"They come here and people tell them to go back ‘home,’ but where is home? The country that was trying to kill them…?" said Karno. "The Jewish heart is sympathetic, we know this. We want the Jews to feel us in their hearts."

The daily newspaper Ha’aretz probably put it best in an editorial this week: "The first moral commandment of the state of the Jews is that it does not have the right to slam the door in the face of refugees fleeing genocide. A state of survivors cannot imprison those saved from the ravages of war in Sudan…. Although dozens of scholarly articles have been written on the question of ‘What is a Jewish state,’ it appears that there are only a few that examine this aspect, the most important of all."

And so it is. "Ben Azzai says: ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam [Genesis 5:1],’ this is a greater principle of the Torah."

Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of the Conservative synagogue Temple Israel Community Center in Cliffside Park and an instructor in the UJA-Federation-sponsored Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of the Hebrew University. He is the editor of Judaism: A Journal of Jewish Life and Thought.