Folktale illustrates core Jewish value

Rabbi Brad Horwitz

By Rabbi Brad Horwitz

A favorite Jewish folktale of mine tells of a group of monks at a monastery who over time lost sight of their own behaviors and treated each other with disrespect. Once known for living in an atmosphere of good will and human decency, the monks increasingly turn argumentative, suspicious and even dishonest. It got so bad that the head of the monastery went out to seek out advice from his good friend, the rabbi, who was head of a local Jewish house of study. The rabbi instructed him to go back to the monastery and tell his fellow monks that one of them was the messiah. The monk did as instructed and the behavior changed immediately for the better. Without the knowledge of who among them might be the messiah, the monks treated every individual with the utmost respect and decency if by chance the messiah was that person.

This story is based on a core Jewish value known as b’tzelem elohim, that we are all created in the image of God. In God’s eyes we are all of equal value and importance no matter our race, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic background.

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We first learn this from the story of creation in the book of B’reisheet (Genesis). When God created humanity, God did so in God’s image. We also can learn this from this week’s Torah portion Kedoshim when we read, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” 

I feel this is a message that often gets lost in today’s world. Our community and world would be a much better place if we, like the monks in the story, saw the dignity and worth of all human beings as being equal to our own. We have the power to act in more Godly ways, if we consider what it means to be holy and treat others as if they are also holy.

I challenge each of us to try and integrate this value and this approach into our lives. Be proud of your own distinct and individual faith, background and traditions, but also accept and honor others who do not share these things in common. Our lives are truly enriched through the diversity in our community.

Please join me in celebrating and acting on the value of b’tzelem elohim because after all, we are all holy and we are all created in God’s image.