We live in a world that places equality on a pedestal. All men are created equal, suggested a brilliant group of men some two hundred and fifty years ago, and based on that fact, all people have certain inalienable rights.
Indeed, the equal rights movement in America is one of the most important movements in American history, and has accomplished many great things, though of course, there is still a ways to go. There is no reason a woman should be paid les salary than a man for the same job, and people should be judged, in all things, by the color of their deeds, and not the hue of their skins.
To be sure, equality is a valuable idea. The only problem is, it simply isn’t true. Because, thank G-d, we are not all equal, not any of us. Two pennies are equal, because essentially they are exactly the same. They have the same value, serve the same purpose, and most often, cannot be told apart.
But two people are anything but the same. We are all so very different. We have different characters and personalities, different loves and likes, fears and concerns, we even look different. In the entire world, with all of its billions of people, you will not find two people who are or even look, exactly alike. And the fact that we are all different, means that every one of us has what to contribute.
If we were all equal, then we could all be replaced. You can always substitute one apple for another. But people can never be replaced. And the world, without any single one of us, simply would not be the same.
Judaism suggests, that while there is great value in building up the whole, whether the whole community, nation, or even the world, such that no one individual supersedes the next, it is only as great as the value inherent in each individual.
The world today speaks of equality, but Judaism begins by stressing individuality.
This is one of the dangers of an atheistic philosophy; if we are all random, having arrived simply as the evolution of what preceded us, then in the end it is all too easy to arrive at the idea that the whole is the greater good, and that the people, and indeed the world, is a cause worth losing a few individuals over. It is no accident that the societies that left religion and the idea of purposeful creation behind, very soon resulted in so much human misery. More people were killed in our century as a result of Nazism, Communism, and the Khmer Rouge, to name a few, than in all the combined history of the world until now. Because if each human being is just part of the large test tube of life, then in the end, what is one more or less when weighed against the goal of the common good?
But if every human being is created in the image of G-d, then there is a little bit of G-d inside every one of us, and if you can’t see a little bit of G-d in the person sitting next to you, you’ll never find Him anywhere else.
Rabbi Binny Freeman