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Beginning Again In God’s Image

Rabbi Akiva says: “‘Love your fellow as yourself'” (Leviticus 19:18), is the greatest principle of the Torah.

Ben Azzai says, “‘When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God’ (Genesis 5:1) is the greatest principle in the Torah. You should not say: Because I have been dishonored, let my fellow be dishonored along with me…”

Rabbi Tanhuma explained: “If you do so, know whom you are dishonoring – ‘He made him in the likeness of God.'” (Genesis Rabbah 24)

In this classic Midrash, Rabbis Akiba and Ben Azzai are doing what Talmudic rabbis do best: playing a lively game of spiritual oneupsmanship. In this case, they are debating the central value of Torah: according to Akiba it is the famous verse from Leviticus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ben Azzai counters with the insight from this week’s Torah portion: humanity was created in God’s image.

Rabbi Tanhuma’s final statement reinforces the weakness of Akiba’s claim: though it is certainly praiseworthy to love your fellow as yourself, this might imply that you only need to treat your fellow as well (or as badly) as you yourself are treated. Ben Azzai points out that if we truly understand that all people are made in the image of God, we must accept that any time we shame, insult or abuse another, we do the same to God.

I am particularly struck that Akiba’s statement expresses an essentially humanist point of view, while Ben Azzai’s is an inherently theological assertion. In a sense, Ben Azzai raises the moral stakes of the equation. As the saying (often misattributed to Dostoevsky) goes: “where there is no God, all is permitted.” This drives home the radical imperative in Genesis: if all people are made in the divine image, all people are of infinite worth; all people are deserving of dignity, respect and fair treatment.

The Torah thus begins with this foundational principle, which has both interpersonal/ethical as well as global/moral implications. As we start Torah anew yet again, we return to its central question: how can we find the wherewithal to treat everyone we meet as a fellow child of God? How can we, as Americans, as Jews, as global citizens find dignity and respect for all who dwell on earth?

Postscript: One powerful way you can honor Torah’s central principle: consider attending the Second North American Conference on Judaism and Human Rights on December 7-9 in Washington DC.

Same Great Taste!

As you can see, I’ve shaken up the design of the blog a little bit because, well, for no real reason actually. Other than the outward look of things, it’s the same ol’ Shalom Rav.

BTW: I’ve also acquired a new and easier domain name: But don’t worry if you’ve bookmarked the old address – that one will still lead here as well…

Happy Birthday, Shalom Rav!

cake1.jpgThat’s right, it was just one year ago today that I launched this venerable blog. Who knew I’d be enjoying this so much?

When I orginally began Shalom Rav I hoped, as I wrote in my first post, that it would have “something to contribute.” I also hoped it would serve as a way to stay connected with my congregants during a year when JRC was living in temporary quarters throughout the Chicago diaspora. What I didn’t fully expect was the extent to which I would be connected with so many souls throughout the greater blogosphere. Though I had no idea of what to expect when I began, I am now a true believer in the power of blogs to connect people, share ideas, and create worthwhile conversations/debates.

As far as the hard stats go, in this past year, Shalom Rav has to date logged 50,943 visits, 171 posts, 366 comments (and a spam count of 2,399). Heartfelt thanks to all those who’ve dropped in for a visit – and special gratitude to all of you who took the time to weigh in with your thoughts and responses. Please keep ’em coming…

Nix on Pix

mypicture.jpgYou may have noticed that I’ve reverted back to my old PR head shot rather than this more recent one I first posted a few weeks ago. Feedback on the new pic was overwhelmingly negative (and was even, apparently, a major subject of discussion at a recent JRC committee meeting.) The final straw was when my always supportive wife Hallie admitted, when pushed, that she wasn’t too crazy about it either…

So I’ve decided to put an end to the congregational and familial upheaval. Let it never be said of me that I don’t know how to take a hint: we’re back to clean-cut for now.

A Blog is Born…

brant-pr-photo.JPGThis well-dressed, clean cut looking guy is me, Brant Rosen, the Rabbi of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL, and the author of this blog. I fervently hope that by starting this new project, I’m not just adding more blah, blah, blah, blogging to cyberspace. I guess time will tell.

Believe it or not, I originally wanted to call my blog “Di Shande Fun Der Voch,” which roughly translates from Yiddish to mean, “The Outrage of the Week.” In the end, I decided on something slightly less strident: “Shalom Rav.” A bit of a pun: it is the name of a well-known Hebrew prayer, meaning “Abundant Peace,” but it also can also mean “Hello, Rabbi.” (It’s much more polite, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to be outraged about…)

Anyhow, welcome to my new blog. I hope it has something to contribute.