Author Archives: Akiva Wolff

Being a Good Neighbor

Dr Akiva Wolff / Living in this world means being a neighbor. This fundamental principle is so deep in the Jewish tradition that it is found in the very roots of our native language. According to 19th Century sage, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: [The Hebrew word] shachan means both to dwell, and also to be a neighbor. Therein lies the highest social ideal. In Jewish thought, to dwell means to be a neighbor. When a Jew takes a place on earth to be his dwelling place he must at the same time concede space and domain to his fellow men for a similar dwelling place. Being a good neighbor, as we will see below, is a Jewish obligation. It can also be a tremendous challenge. On the one hand, we all have physical needs and wants to satisfy in order to live in this world, especially in order to live satisfying, productive and enjoyable lives. On the other hand, much of what we do to satisfy these needs and wants can negatively impact our neighbors – everyone and everything in our environment. This is especially true in modern times, where there are so many more people, with so much technology, living on a material level beyond the dreams of our ancestors. How are we to negotiate the challenges involved in being a good neighbor? Should we deny our own needs and wants in order to avoid causing harm? Can we just ignore the welfare of others, and put our own needs and wants first – like so many around us seem to be doing? How can we manage to live our lives within the dynamic tension of trying to satisfy both, often conflicting sides?

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