LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. A short and sweet imperative central to the teachings of the world's major religions. So, how has this universal law eluded compliance? Why hasn't it naturally led to world peace when the concept is so broadly accepted? The problem may lie in a too-narrow definition of who one's neighbor is and what it means to love. An interfaith group, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, observes: "In our opinion, the greatest failure of organized religion is its historical inability to convince their followers that the Ethic of Reciprocity applies to all humans, not merely to fellow believers" (www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm).
The Torah, or Pentateuch, presents the law of God, as given to Moses. Also constituting the first five books of the Christian Bible, it could be said that the Torah as a whole is an extension of the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. The first five speak specifically of love for God and the second five of love for one's neighbor. Leviticus 19 focuses on the just treatment of others, and verses 11-18 deal specifically with neighborliness. For example verse 18 reads, "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (New King James Version). The Hebrew word rei-acha, translated "neighbor," is closely linked to the idea of brotherhood, but in a very limited sense. A neighbor was a fellow Israelite—one who shared common religious beliefs.
Jesus was known for countering accepted Jewish law. And yet, his self-proclaimed mission was not to destroy or abolish the law of Moses (and the wisdom of the prophets), but to fulfill it (see Matt. 5:17). To fulfill is to complete, or accomplish, the purpose of something. Jesus first challenged his disciples, and then others, to readjust their definition of neighbor— to broaden their sense of who their kinsmen were— as well as raise awareness regarding the demands that are made to love others. He challenged them to reevaluate what constitutes the kingdom in which we dwell. These concepts are worthy of consideration in today's evermore-connected global society.