This is what is meant by: "You may not hide yourself" [so as to ignore the lost object and not return it]. Don't understand this as referring to a lost object only; rather this is the law regarding ... all the other benefits that a person has the ability to bring to his friend, or to remove and push off damage from him. He is obligated in all of them, as it says: "You should love your neighbor like yourself."It struck me after reading this that regardless of whether you're an atheist or a believer, THIS IS WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT Jewishly - namely, simply wanting the best for one another, not wanting to see them suffer, and actually taking action to improve one another's welfare, and to prevent them from incurring harm. And it has nothing to do with the issue of "belief". If we have any commitment or love for Judaism, THIS is the foundation. This needs to be the focus, the essence of our spirituality as Jews.
And unfortunately we look around and see that this is very often not the case. Disappointingly, we see that religious Jews all too often lack this basic foundation - being so hyper-focused on externals, whether relating to dress code or minute details of this or that ritual halacha, far more focused on perfecting "their mitzvah" and gaining "their Olam Haba" (or simply caught up in everyday life) than they are on desiring the benefit/welfare of people around them. It's not that frum Jews are any worse than others in this regard, but someone who is truly "frum" should positively excel in the area of concern for others. They should conduct themselves as if this is their very reason for being. Love for one another should ooze out of their pores. Because THAT is what it means to be religious. That is what it means to thwart the human tendency toward self-interest at the expense of others, the tendency that makes kids cruel to one another, and which makes adults look at one another in the street as "noise", people in the way, ahead of us in line, taking up space and resources, or as means to ends. If we don't combat that tendency and start looking at each other as people whose well-being we genuinely we care about, what exactly have we accomplished? How have we evolved or matured, and how can we possibly think of ourselves as "spiritual"?
But I bring this up not just to harp on frum Jews who aren't getting it right. I also have to say I'm disappointed in the skeptical "community" for often being shameless offenders in this regard. Not only is the tone of discourse routinely used in blogs and comment sections highly disrespectful, devoid of sensitivity, filled with flippant, sneering and cutting remarks, but there doesn't even seem to be an awareness that there's anything wrong with it! It has so become the norm that no one bats an eyelash at it, let alone speaks up and rejects it as immature, mean-spirited, and not in keeping with our ideals. There's no "conversational pressure" against it. And again, it's not as if the skeptical Jewish community is worse than others - indeed there's no corner of the internet where you don't see people ripping one another apart with shameless abandon.
I'm suggesting here that when we post comments, we try to remember that we're speaking to another human being. And if we want to think of ourselves as mature, sensitive, spiritual, evolved people, we should be every bit as concerned with that person's benefit, their physical and emotional well-being, as we are with the point we're trying to make. If we're in that head-space, how on earth would we say something designed to make them feel bad, feel stupid? Yes, there's a place to disagree - of course there is. And there's a place sometimes to be sharp. But as I've said before, people are more important than ideas. So we can try to destroy an idea, but don't destroy the person in order to kill the idea. That's a big mistake.
I'm reminded of a Gemara I saw recently, in Berachot 10a. There were some hooligans in Rabbi Meir's neighborhood, and he davened that they should die. His wife Bruria chastised him that he should daven that they do teshuva, quoting a pasuk that "sins will cease and there will be no more evildoers" - it says "sins" should cease, not "sinners". So Rabbi Meir davened for them, and they did teshuva. (Happy ending - halavai it were that easy!) Point being, even for the lousy people of the world, we should desire their well-being rather than their destruction. "Kal v'chomer" (all the more so) for the vast majority of decent people out there, we need to desire their well-being. We need to act on that desire, and we need to be vigilant about it.
And I'll say further. If Jewish skeptics/atheists don't conduct themselves in a refined, dignified, evolved, sensitive manner, all this does is feed into the idea that without God to tell us how to behave, we become a bunch of "behemas" (animals). So it's particularly incumbent upon such people to make a statement that this is NOT the case. How? By demonstrating that it's not the case, with our words and our actions. Yes, it is possible to be rational and uncompromising in matters of truth, AND to be of the finest character, highly sensitive and evolved. It is possible to reject the part of Torah that is worthy of being rejected, AND to enthusiastically embrace and fulfill the part of Torah that is worthy of being fulfilled and embraced.
That's the teshuva we all need to work on - skeptic and believer alike, Jew and non-Jew alike. So with that, a happy and productive Elul to one and all!