Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eternal Life (part 3)

A man asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? The man then recited the Ten Commandments and commented that he had kept them from the time of his youth. Jesus replied, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The man was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (The Gospel of Mark 10:17-22)

While it is true that many Jews believe that observance of mitzvot (commandments) and strict adherence to Jewish Law is the path to eternal life, there are varying opinions regarding the centrality of ritual laws.  One stream of rabbinic thought emphasizes gemilut hesed (deeds of lovingkindness) as taking precedence over all else.  These acts of kindness, such as visiting the sick, burying the dead and bringing peace between people who disagree, can never be repaid. Rabbi Elazar quotes the prophet Micah to define lovingkindness: “You have been told what is good and what God requires of you: ‘to act justly, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.’ What does this verse imply? To act justly, this is the law.  To love kindness, this is deeds of lovingkindness. To walk humbly with your God, this is to bury the dead and accompany the bride to her wedding canopy.”[1] Similarly, the Talmud lists examples of gemilut hesed, stating that the principal of the reward for these deeds—a richly fulfilling life— is earned in this world, and the interest is rewarded in the world to come.[2] Personally, I am striving to achieve a life of gemilut hesed, with the early rabbis—and Jesus and Muhammed—as my guides along the path.

[1] Sukkah 49b
[2] Shabbat 127a

This is the third of three reflections on Eternal Life, originally posted in October 2011.

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