It’s been some years now since this moment of dismay. We — the usual crew of loving Scripture-wrestlers, cheerfully not just agreeing to disagree, but willing to hang on to each other’s different understandings alongside our own — were putting some passage through its paces. Somehow either the text or the gloss we were using made a point of shifting pronouns around… it would have been she for he, at that point. And one of my dearly-loved friends harrumphed and scoffed, “Political correctness!”


I couldn’t figure out in the moment how to share a different view. To go from his “they’re bossing me around over fiddly little stuff!!” to my enfolding into a way of caring that, ultimately, cost (costs!) me nothing. I did try. But I know I didn’t get there.

Tonight’s homework included this tale, “a classic story told by Rebbe Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745-1807).”

As the account goes, the rebbe had announced to his disciples, “I have learned how we must truly love our neighbor from a conversation between two villagers which I overheard”:

The first said: “Tell me, friend Ivan, do you love me?”
The second: “I love you deeply.”
The first: “Do you know, my friend, what gives me pain?”
The second: “How can I, pray, know what gives you pain?”
The first: “If you do not know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?”

“Understand, then, my children,” continued the rebbe, “to love, truly to love, means to know what brings pain to your comrade.”
— as retold by Amy-Jill Levine in The Misunderstood Jew, p116-117

And not just to know, but to act on that knowledge in order to behave as you’d want to be behaved-toward.

It’s little to do with politics, identity- or otherwise. And everything to do with creating a caring space that reeks of safety. When we finally feel safe, we can relax a little, hear a little, and maybe even grow a little. Together.

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