"Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself"

In Parshat Kedoshim, we are told to love our neighbor. Why are these laws in Leviticus, the book of instruction

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch,

Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Love thy neighbor as thyself”(Leviticus 19,18 )is just one of 51mitzvos, many of them “bein  adam lacha veiro (between man and his fellow man) “, to be found in Parhat Kedoshim.

This begs the question: what are such laws doing in Leviticus, which up to now has contained only laws pertaining to Sanctuary, Temple and sacrifices?

The Maharal of Prague ( Netivot Olam,Netiv Ahavat Rei’ah; as explained by R. Reuven Feierman in Netiv L’Maharal ) provides a fascinating answer to our question, and thereby explains the whole issue of relevance of Temple and sacrifices to our time.

On the pasuk (verse) : “ V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha” ( Love thy neighbor as thyself) , the Maharal quotes a four-way argument among Rabbis from Mishnaic times(Tannaim):

Rabbi Akiva (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4) says his famous dictum that “v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, zeh klal gadol baTorah” – Love thy neighbor as thyself is a great rule (klal) of the Torah”. Ben Nanas basically agrees with R. Akiva, but with a twist that leads to different consequences. Ben Zoma disagrees,  saying  that THE cardinal rule (klal) of the Torah is the famous Shma Yisrael declaration. Finally, R. Shimon ben Pazi says that the klal of the Torah is the rule declaring the daily Temple Avodah, the sacrifices.

But   the Maharal is loaded with surprises, all contrary to simple understanding of the issues involved here. The fact that these Tannaim use the word klal means that we are dealing with more than a simple “rule”. The Torah is all-encompassing, and the “klal” also means “all inclusive”. So a “klal baTorah” is THE all-inclusive standard par excellence, and can only refer to the Almighty Himself; the Lord Almighty, who is your best friend, whom you should love.

So what Rabi Akiva is telling us is that you should love the all-inclusive Almighty as one loves oneself; and since every human is created in the image of the Almighty, one should love one’s neighbor.

Ben Nanas agrees that this verse about loving neighbors is THE klal we are seeking; but he gives it a twist that we see from Rashi , who says that loving one’s neighbor means “what you hate, do not do to your fellow man”.

Rav Feierman explains the Maharal on this: R. Akiva’s tzelem Elohim (image of G-d) idea is not a standard that one can follow. A person is not static, and as a man’s image has ups and downs in his adherence to Torah (G-d’s will). It would be impossible to know whether to love one’s neighbor for he is in G-d’s image, or to not love him because he is not in that image.

In that vein, according to R. Akiva, the verse should state: “Love the Lord”- meaning, according to Rashi, don’t do what is hateful to Him.  Ben Nanas says, however, that nobody knows all the Torah, and therefore it’s impossible to know all that G-d hates. But Man’s inner nature is created in the image of G-d, giving Man an innate,, natural morality; he therefore “knows”, inside, a feeling of hate for what the Lord, and other men who are in His image, hate,and therefore will refrain from such actions.

R. Shimon ben Pazi says that the cardinal rule of the Torah is the pasuk (verse) that establishes the daily Temple Avoda (service), in Bamidbar 28:4. This defines our relationship to the Almighty as one of “eved”, servant , which he says is our highest possible relationship to the Lord.

Here the Maharal gives us a Jewish Sociology class, examining all relationships which the Torah uses as similes for the man-G-d interaction :creation-Creator; husband-spouse(baal-isha); ish-isha(man and wife); son-Heavenly Father; King-servant; and King-earthly Prince.

“There is no one relationship that reflects the klal, the All of the relationship between klal Yisrael (Israel) and its source of Existence; indeed, this relationship reflects the infinity of possible human relationships. “This is why there exist in this world an infinity of human inter-relationships (mandated to be based on love), for all of them together express the multi-dimensional Unity of Israel’s relationship to G-d—the highest of which, being our free-willed, happy service of the Lord”.

Ben Pazi now delivers his knockout punch: the Lord told Moses to build the Sanctuary /Temple “according to all that I showed you”(Shmot25,9). The final “you” in this verse is anomalous in the original Hebrew: it should be intransitive “lecha”, but it is instead transitive “otcha”: I showed you “you”, yourself, your human inner spiritual nature, when I showed you the plan for the Sanctuary. “Ki haAdam hu dimyon Beit Hamikdash”(Maharal), for “in the structure of the Temple, Man meets his own unique inner higher dimensions- the Temple is an expression of Man’s very soul” (R. Feierman).

Thus the Maharal says that the Sinat Chinam (hate of one’s fellow Jew, and Jews) that destroyed, and continues to destroy, our holy Temple, is ‘metamei the KLAL’,  poisons All (our cardinal Rule);  so one who is repentant is considered as if he builds the Temple itself.

Moreover,  we pray ‘ yehiRatzon’, may it be G-d’s will that the Temple be rebuilt; in our days having no Temple, Man is the Temple, and we pray to rehabilitate ideal men and their interrelationships”.

This explains why Parshat Kedoshim and laws such as “Love thy neighbor” are found here in the book of Vayikra( Leviticus). It also explains why we read this Parsha now, after Pesach, during the Omer period leading up to Shavuot.

For as Rav Matis Weinberg explains, the Torah we accepted, and accept, on Shavuot is the blueprint of every structure (prat) in this world, as well as of the world as a whole (klal). On Shavuot we accepted the Kingship of G-d, and the derivative Kingship of King David; and “Kingship (Malchut) is the emergence of a defined structure, with a unique identity, from the chaos of this world’s infinite interrelationships”.

This is indeed the story of Ruth which we read on Shavuot: the chaotic period of the Judges, the “yemei shfot haShoftim”, which its myriad human stories and relationships, led to the emergence of the King, David. His kingship emerged from the highest relationships of love and sharing, in the stories of Ruth and Naomi, and Ruth and Boaz.

This was unlike the kingship of Shaul, whose name in Hebrew means “asked for”: his kingship was a forced arrangement, not an emergent phenomenon from a happy, willing populace of “ovdei hamelech”, the king’s willing servants/citizens, the “anshei David”, the “men of David”. Such forced solutions are as doomed to failure as Saul’s.

That is why loyal Jews realize that the contrived political scene of modern Israel, based on the sinat Chinam of Churban, is living on the same “borrowed time(literally , Shaul) “ as was Saul’s kingdom. It is also why we don’t bulldoze the Mosques on the Temple Mount; forced solutions will not work.

Finally, it is why the first thing that we say when we count the Omer every night between Pesach and Shavuot , is : “ May the Merciful One return to us the Avodat  Bei  tHaMikdash, the Temple Service, speedily in our times, Amen”.