The relationship of one neighbor to another supersedes politics and religion. It is, perhaps literally, just too close to home. We see our neighbors from our kitchen windows and over our fences. We notice when they neglect their lawn or celebrate their child’s birthday with balloons on the mailbox.
Our Torah makes no secret of the fact that human beings must honor our neighbors. The importance of the neighborly relationship falls no lower than the Golden Rule itself and the tablets God gave Moses at Sinai. Just as the Ten Commandments remind us to worship One God, celebrate Shabbat, honor our parents and refrain from stealing – the same tablets remind us twice, in commandments nine and ten, that we are to honor our neighbors by not bearing false witness nor coveting their possessions. It is clear that the relationships between neighbors are different than any other relationship. It is also clear that it is inherently complicated.
For many in our congregation, the vote by Countryside Community Church to join the Tri-Faith effort was the answer to our prayers and the realization of our now decade-old dreams. For others, it symbolizes a movement we feel distanced from or even opposed to. But for all of us, the vote in April for Countryside Community Church to move into Sterling Ridge and the subsequent announcement for the American Muslim Institute to break ground in the coming days, is notice that our Sterling Ridge property is about to become a neighborhood. Let us not be naive. This, too, is complicated.
Since planting our foundation at 132nd and Pacific two years ago, we have lived the simple life. We have lived alone. We have lived without worry of how we are perceived or how we perceive others. We have lived with no test of our human nature to covet or judge. We have lived alone for two years with no one to test the Golden Rule on beyond ourselves. Now, we enter a time of elevated awareness and responsibility. We will need to ask questions we could not ask before. Questions that will begin the day our neighbors move in. If welcoming a new family to our residential neighborhoods is a call for a knock on the door and homemade cookies, what on earth is the appropriate welcome for two entire congregations?
I am certain that there will be many invitations to welcome and get to know our neighbors as our neighborhood takes shape just as there will be invitations to learn together, pray together and eat together in the years to come. I urge every one of us to take these invitations not as suggestions, but as mitzvot. I urge us all to feel the obligation that was not just put into the 613 commandments, but into the Ten Commandments and into the one Golden Rule. The neighborly relationship is one we live with and one that requires nurturing. When the American Muslim Institute breaks ground, I hope all of us will be there. And when Countryside Community Church opens their doors for the first time, I hope that foundation is tested by the sheer weight of every member of our neighborhood standing on their front porch with cookies in hand.
Whatever ones feelings are about our Tri-faith efforts, whether we think it is a great distraction or the beginning of a messianic era, we must not confuse the deep responsibility, the mitzvah, of being a good neighbor, with the dreams or disappointments of personal opinions. Living in a neighborhood is a complicated endeavor. It requires faith in the other and it tests our most deeply held vices like envy and gossip. I am certain there will be times when we covet our new neighbors. We will look wantonly at their new homes and wonder if ours is already outdated? We will hear their worship and feel challenged to adapt ours. They will do the same. But living amongst neighbors is also an elevated endeavor. We will live with a greater responsibility. We will live with a greater sense of self-awareness; a greater sense of who we are and why we love our Judaism. And as we come to know our new neighbors, crossing paths in parking lots, visiting each others’ sanctuaries and social halls, we will live out those very ideals set out in the Torah; that the relationship between neighbors, while complex, is precisely what we have been learning to do since our tablets were given to us at Sinai.