Each of us is created in the image of God, we read in this week’s Torah portion.
Our sages demonstrate the preeminence of this verse when they debate its place in the hierarchy of scripture. In the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Nedarim, we read: “The greatest principle in Torah,” says Rabbi Akiva, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” His student, Ben-Azzai, says it’s not so: “A greater principle is that every single person is created in the image of God.”
Our love, our respect, our obligation to our fellow human being is not measured by the love of ourself. Even if indifferent to our own lot or wrapped in the devastation of self-loathing, we must not ignore the plight of our neighbor whose Divine image commands dignity and respect and safety.
On this Shabbat, the Jewish community, the American community, marks one year after the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. We remember the eleven souls, eleven sparks of the Divine, returned to their creator before their time here on earth was finished, before their acts of kindness were finished, before their expressions of love to their family and friends were complete. We grieve for them and for the many others whose lives have been tragically ended by expressions of sinat chinam, of baseless hate. We recount their names, we retell their stories, out of love and respect and our promise not to ignore their fate nor the plight of others like them in our country.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger
Each was created in the image of God and each died in the sanctification of God, and their memories are a constant reminder of our obligation to see God in every single person, even those — and especially those — with whom we disagree.