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Vayikra/Leviticus 25:14 And when you sell a sale to your neighbour or buy from the hand of your neighbour
The word , neighbour or society-member, is closely related to , people. Whilst the latter is used to refer to whole people groups: , 'Israel My people', and the other peoples with whom Israel comes into contact, as opposed to , nations, which is used for the nations in a corporate sense, is used in a much more local or parochial sense: society, neighbour, community.Rashi comments that while the verse - enjoining honesty and fair pricing in business transactions - has a clear 'plain' meaning reading, the exegetical interpretation is that Jews should primarily trade with each other in preference to non-Jews. The super-commentaries pick up on the fact that the text talks about both buying and selling with one's neighbours which has a degree of redundancy about it, to emphasise that one should buy from and sell to fellow Jews (Torat Kohanim, Mishmeret HaKodesh).
Over the years, the practical meaning of 'neighbour' changed. In Avraham's time, it would have meant the community that travelled with him - his household: family, servants, slaves and so on. By the times of the walled cities in the days of the kings, it would have referred to your physical neighbours in the city, be they Jew or Ger (alien living in the Land). After the division into the two kingdoms, the two exiles and the return to the Land, there was a definite separation between Judea and Galilee; by 2nd Temple times, this was quite marked, with Jews from the Galil having their lineage as Jews questioned by those who lived in Judea, and being regarded as second-class citizens of Israel. Forced re-settlement by the Assyrians had brought other peoples into the Land who although not of direct Jewish ancestry adopted many of the religious practices of the Land and intermarried with the people left behind - they became known as the Samaritans.
Against that background, we find Yeshua being asked quite a politically charged question: "And who is my neighbour?" (Luke 10:29, NASB). Although the text here suggests that the questioner asked that in order to justify himself, there is also every possibility that the enquiry was both serious and in earnest: in the light of all the peoples around, where are the boundaries of ? Just who is my community?
In response, Yeshua tells the parable of the Good Samaritan with its surprise ending. The listeners would have been paying careful attention as Yeshua spoke, probably laughing at His caricature of the Priest and the Levite, but the ending would have shocked them. The Samaritans were a despised - and sometimes hated - minority, with travellers going out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria on their way between Judea and the Galil; but it was the Samaritan who crossed the boundary of hostility in order to demonstrate compassion to a Jew and show who G-d had in mind when He talked about neighbours.
Further Study: Luke 10:25-37
Application: Look around you today, at work and at the shops - do you see your neighbour there among the people? Buy and sell with your neighbour; interact with the community. As Yeshua said, "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37 CJB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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