Man and His Neighbors

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

I recently heard two questions asked:  

1) What is Judaism's definition of man?  

2) How does Judaism view the importance of the interaction between a man and his neighbors?

Let us first define the term "definition":  it is that which sets a thing apart from all else by isolating a character found nowhere else. Man cannot be simply defined as a living object, for so are plants and animals. Man is not defined as a being with will, for animals too have will...

God created man as the sole being with a soul. So the primary definition of man, is that he is a creation of God. All other descriptions (of man's nature, his design and his goals) are second in definition to his primary feature: that he "is".  It may be asked: "Did God not create everything? So why is God's 'creation' of man central to man's definition?"  The answer is as follows: man's realization of a Creator is primary to man's definition as a being that can comprehend the Creator. Man was not given intelligence to master the world, but to use the world as a means to draw towards God by studying His creation, His actions and His method of providence over mankind. Studying God's wisdom that permeates all man experiences, man finds the utmost fulfillment. If man ignores a life of intelligent pursuits and study, he will be frustrated, always assuming the next physical indulgence will finally make him happy. But he sees time and again that this fails.   

Not only Judaism and the great Rabbis, but many fine thinkers arrived at the conclusion that man is defined as a rational being where wisdom satisfies him most. Newton, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Noah, Adam and others were not Jews, yet they possessed the same faculty as all men and women: an intellect.  They too realized that man is defined by his intellect, and his greatest joy is achieved when he or she ponders the universe and God's words of wisdom. We must appreciate that when the greatest minds like Moses and King Solomon spent their lives not amassing wealth, but in study and education, that there is something to this lifestyle worth uncovering through our own tutelage under the Rabbis.

1) What is Judaism's definition of man? It is not our definition, but "reality's" definition: Man is the only being possessing intelligence, where the use of this faculty yields the greatest joy when realizing his Creator through wisdom. 

2) How does Judaism view the importance of the interaction between a man and his neighbors?

First, without a species, individuals would not exist. Again, we learn that our "existence" is primary to our appreciation for others. We then appreciate it is God's will that "many" individuals exist. Our relationships with others must then be an expression of our realization of God's will, that others too exist. My ego must accept equality among all people. God created us all. Maintaining this perspective, man then arrives at further truths that proper conduct is God's will, since God desires their lives and happiness, and not just mine. I must not steal, rape, murder, oppress, deceive or treat any other human without justice and equality. Had I been the only human, I could maintain my illusion of importance, but a species teaches that I am no more significant than the next human. We all possess great importance. We are all created equal. Judaism does not view any human as less or more. The religious acceptance of our parents is irrelevant; it has no bearing on our potential.

Our interaction with others enables us to perfect ourselves. For with thought alone, we cannot say someone is "convinced" of, or values a given principle. This is why God gave commandments, so man might have a means through which he demonstrates his true convictions. Saying charity is good, is not like actually donating our hard-earned money. Thus actions are required to enable man to truly perfect his values.

Therefore, we require interaction with others to express our conviction in God's will, that others are to exist, and be treated well. This interaction is for the welfare of others, and for our own perfection, since we are perfected through a life that is in line with reality. And "reality", is only that, which God created or says is so. Apprehending the truth that all men are equal must be followed by physical actions that display this conviction. Living in isolation or ignoring such human interactions, we do not show our conviction that God is correct; that God desires the life and welfare of all others. And ignoring God means we waste our life. 

We were created with intelligence, so we might study this Creator and follow His ways. No other creature has been gifted this opportunity. We have one life which can eventuate into an afterlife, as the philosophers and Judaism teach. In this afterlife, we are no longer restricted by a physical body and physical needs, so we can then attain an even deeper joy in the higher apprehension of greater knowledge of God.