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Understand What It Means to Be Created in the Image of God
From Being a Blessing -- 54 Ways You Can Help People Living with AIDS

by Rabbi Harris Goldstein

January 1995

There's a story in the Talmud, Masechet Derech Eretz (Chapter 4), which relates that once Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar was coming from Migdal Eder, from his teacher's house, and he was riding leisurely on his horse by the seaside. A certain man chanced to meet him, and the man was exceedingly ugly. Rabbi Shimon said to him, "Raka (simpleton), how ugly are the children of Abraham our father." The other man replied, "What can I do for you? Speak to the Craftsman Who made me." Rabbi Shimon immediately dismounted from his horse and bowed before the man and said, "I apologize to you, forgive me." He replied to him, "I will not forgive you until you go to the Craftsman Who made me and say, "How ugly is the vessel which You have made."

Rabbi Shimon walked behind him for three miles. When the people in town heard of the arrival of Rabbi Shimon, they came out to meet him and greeted him with the words, "Peace be unto you, rabbi." The other man said to them, "Who are you calling rabbi?" They answered, "The man who is walking behind you." Thereupon he exclaimed, "If this man is a rabbi, may there not be any more like him in Israel!" He told the people the whole story, and they begged him to forgive the rabbi, and he agreed, only on the condition that he never act in this manner again.

The Holy One created all kinds of people. We have to accept, welcome, and love that diversity God created, or else take those issues up with the Creator, not with the person who was created. Diversity is what makes each of us special. Inclusiveness, welcoming, and involvement with the diverse people who share this earth with us make us a holy community. Uniformity is destruction; diversity is our strength and our greatest hope.

It is not up to us to judge people based on the color of their skin, or their gender, or their sexual orientation. If you have a problem with the fact that a person is gay, a woman, or of a different skin color, discuss your problem with the One Who created people to be different, if you're so inclined. But remember that your problem is not with the created but with the Creator.

Gay people in the United States were the "leading edge" of the AIDS epidemic. The government ignored the disease because it was destroying "only" those lives. Unfortunately, religious groups remained silent (or worse, claimed AIDS was "God's will") and did not take on the responsibility to respond in the absence of governmental justice and fairness.

AIDS is not about sexual orientation. AIDS is about disease. The issues of immorality apply to AIDS only when one considers the immorality of people who think they have the right to watch other people suffer and not respond, because those people are somehow "less" or "defective" in some way. Standing idly by while people are suffering is immoral.

Claiming that God punishes people through disease is immoral, because
  1. it's not true -- we dare not say such things about cancer or diabetes or muscular dystrophy;

  2. it implies that God is more concerned with the "sin" of homosexuality than with any other sins, which is at best a dubious assumption about God (Imagine if every adulterer or every liar were hit with a plague for these sins!);

  3. it deprives people in need of spirituality, of healing, of the very Higher Being they have just as much right to worship and to count on as the religious bigots. No human knows how, if, or when God punishes people at all. It's arrogant to assume that we have such knowledge of the ways in which God works.

AIDS is not about racism. AIDS is about disease. It does not affect minority communities because they are African American or Hispanic. It touches people who transfer body fluids from an infected person into another. AIDS is a symptom of problems faced by the urban poor, such as lack of education, drug abuse, lack of funds and hope -- but AIDS is not a result of race.

People involved with people living with AIDS have to deal with their issues of fear of gay people, fear of other races, and fear of people who have been involved with IV drugs. These fears have no basis in reality and can only get in the way. If we are all created in the Divine Image, we share that quality with one another, universally. The image of God is reflected in every human being, and all of God's children deserve and merit God's love and the love of others.


Isaiah 61:7,8,9

Because your shame was double,
People cried, "Disgrace is their portion."
Assuredly, they shall have a double share in their land,
Joy shall be theirs for all time.
For I, God, love justice and make a covenant with them for all time.
All who see them shall recognize
That they are a stock God has blessed.


This is an excerpt from Being A Blessing -- 54 Ways You Can Help People Living With AIDS. Published by Alef Design Group 800-845-0662


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