A great principle in the Torah
A great principle in the Torah

Love your fellow man as yourself

In this week’s second Torah portion, Kedoshim, we come across the mitzvah of which Rabbi Akiva said “zeh clal gadol baTorah” (it is a great principle in the Torah), namely, ve’ahavta le’reacha ka’mocha (love your fellow man as yourself) (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9: 4). In a similar fashion, we have learned from Hillel HaZaken (Hillel the Elder) that when a person came looking to convert to Judaism and asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah on one leg, he said: ‘What is hateful to you, don’t do to someone else – the rest of the Torah is all commentary on that idea. Now, go and study’ (Shabbat 31a).

The mitzvah “Love your fellow man as yourself” appears along with another mitzvah lo ta’aseh (a negative commandment) which complements it, as the Torah says: “Do you hate your brother in your heart … and love your fellow man as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Why it Is a Great Principle in the Torah

These mitzvot are general and fundamental because in practice, the majority of a person’s life occurs in his relationship with his family, friends and neighbors, and thus, a person’s basic attitude toward others is the central foundation on which most mitzvot one meets in his life, rests. If these are the guiding mitzvot in one’s life, it turns out he fulfills Torah and mitzvot the majority of the time.

Moreover, the mitzvot between man and God are also dependent on these commandments, because a person who doesn’t love his friends and is not careful about hurting their feelings – is someone who is occupied only with himself, and in a way, lives in a self-absorbed bubble.

The breakthrough out of narrow egoism into the realms of emunah (faith) is accomplished by means of ahava (love), in which one identifies with another, and desires only good things for him, just as he wishes for himself. In so doing, his little egocentric bubble is breached, he begins to think about the world around him, and is able to connect to the vision of Tikun Ha’Olam (rectification of the world) according to the guidance of Torah and mitzvot.

Definition of the Mitzvah

In practice, it’s impossible for someone to know every other Jew and express love for him. Consequently, the love and responsibility for others expands in concentric circles: in the inner circle, husband and wife; in the surrounding circle, first-degree relatives; after that, friends and second-degree relatives, followed by neighbors, and so on.

If this is the case, then what is the meaning of the mitzvah “love your fellow man as yourself” towards all Jews? The answer is that one should desire the good of every Jew, just as he wishes for himself. For example, if he comes across a Jew in trouble and can help – he should do so, just as he would want others to help him if he was in trouble.

The meaning of the prohibition of “Do not hate your brother in your heart” is that a person should not wish something bad happen to someone else, even if he actually doesn’t say, or do something bad. And anyone, who, out of his great hatred for someone does not speak to him, or even say hello, transgresses the prohibition of sin’ah (hatred).

Between Israel and the Nations

The mitzvah of ahava extends to all human beings, despite the differences in opinions, religions, and nations (Midot HaRaya, Ahava 10). But among Jews, each one of us should feel as if every other Jew is his brother, and consequently, the love and responsibility for him is of a higher and more binding degree.

In addition, it is forbidden to hate a fellow Jew, even if he is a sinner; although he should be rebuked for sinning, and sometimes even punished, it is forbidden to utterly hate him, just as family members should feel a sense of brotherhood even towards a sinful brother. However, a non-Jew who chooses to be evil may be treated with hostility and hatred.

The dignity of Man created in the image of God

In the opinion of Ben Azzai, there is an even greater principle than “love your fellow as yourself,” specifically, the dignity of man stemming from the great responsibility placed upon him as having been created in the image of God, as it is written: “This is the book of the Chronicles of Adam: On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). The meaning of an image and a likeness, is that man has free choice, and like God, has the ability to change his and the world’s situation for the better, or for the worse. In addition, this principle of human dignity applies equally to all people, of all nations.

The gateway to God’s Revelation in the world

In spite of the importance of the principle dealing with man’s dignity and responsibility, the accepted position among Jews is that the principle “love your fellow man as yourself” is more important. This is because in addition to being the foundation for the majority of mitzvot man encounters in his life, through it, man breaks the barrier of his selfishness, and merits revealing his inner image of God. When a person encounters his friend out of love, helps him in his hour of trouble, and rejoices with him in his times of joy, the image of God within his friend is reflected upon him, and as a result, his own soul begins to shine as well, and he is able to achieve emunah and connect with God. The mitzvot between man and his fellow guide us to this.

In addition to this, along with the revelation of the unique independence of every human stemming from the dignity of man – division, competition, and war between individuals was created. The rectification for this is by means of the mitzvah ‘love your fellow as yourself’, and this is the great challenge facing people: to lovingly reveal the inner unity between them, whose foundation is based in the One God Who created and gives life to everything, and to show how through emunah, ahava, and mere collaboration, blessing is drawn to all from the Divine Source.

Someone offended by his friend should admonish him

One of the mitzvot that complements the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow man as yourself’ is the mitzvah of tochacha (admonishment). The idea of the mitzvah is that a person who is offended or hurt by his friend needs to admonish him, so that his friend understands his words or deeds have hurt him, and so they can put their good relationship in order, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:17): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him…love your fellow man as yourself. I am God” (Rambam, Hilkhot De’ot 6:6). But if he conceals his insult, there is concern he will not be able to stop himself from hating his hurtful friend.

Since the goal is to rectify, rather than denounce or condemn, the reproach should be said respectfully, with care not to cause his friend unnecessary insult or grief.

Occasionally it turns out that the friend did not intend to hurt or offend, and after knowing his behavior was hurtful – asks for forgiveness and is careful not to do it anymore, and consequently, it was unnecessary to be angry with him, rather, only to reprove him gently and lovingly.

And at times, it turns out that the insult was based on a mistake, and if someone needs to be offended – it is the friend, and accordingly, the person who comes to reprove should apologize for being mistaken, and needlessly suspecting his friend. Therefore, someone who admonishes another has to say it with reservation, along with willingness to hear his friend’s reply.

Even when the person who is hurt is certain his reproof will not help because this friend is always rude and hurts others, it is a mitzvah for him to respectably admonish him, because there is always a certain chance what he says will penetrate his friend’s heart. And even if he rejects the admonishment, it is likely that if everyone he offends talks to him about it, over time, he will improve his ways.

Lo Tikum ve Lo Titur (Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge)

The prohibitions of nikimah (revenge) and nitirah (bearing grudges) also complement the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow’, as it is written (Leviticus, 19:17-18): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your fellow mand as you love yourself. I am God.”

Our Sages explained (in Sifra, ibid.): “How far does the “power” of revenge extend? If one said to another: ‘Lend me your sickle, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your spade, and he answered: No, just as you did not lend me your sickle.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not take revenge…How far does the “power” of grudge-bearing extend? If one said to another: Lend me your spade, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your sickle, and he answered: Here it is; I am not like you, who did not lend me your spade.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not bear a grudge.”

Seemingly, this is difficult to understand, since a person is required to reprove a friend who hurt him, so why in the prohibition of bearing a grudge is it forbidden to remind the friend that yesterday he refused to lend something? , if the goal is to improve their relationship, and out of love one says to his friend “I am happy to help you, and I would be happy if you could also lend me things when possible,” saying so is not prohibited at all — the exact opposite – it’s a mitzvah. The prohibition “do not bear a grudge” is to insult a friend, and by saying “take a look – I’m not like you,” he really means: “Take a look at how miserable a miser you are – after you refused to lend me your spade yesterday, you have the nerve to ask me today for a sickle? But I won’t sink to your level, I’ll let you use the sickle. Go take a look in a mirror, and see what a nasty person looks like…” Consequently, the prohibition of ‘do not bear a grudge’ is no less severe and insulting than the prohibition ‘do not take revenge.’

If this is the case, how should one react? The best thing to do is to reproach the friend with love and friendship in order to prevent resentment from developing between the two. And it’s preferable to do so before the friend needs to ask him for a favor, because at such time, reproach is liable to hurt his feelings. And if despite the importance of the mitzvah to admonish, a person prefers to avoid it – either because he is embarrassed to do so, or because he fears his reproach will aggravate the situation – he must expunge the affront from his heart, because since he did not admonish his friend, he has no right to resent him.

Nevertheless, he is permitted to decide in his heart that it’s better for him to somewhat distance himself from his friend so as not to get hurt, but it is forbidden for him to act in a hostile way, or to ignore him. If they meet by chance – he should say hello, and if he asks for a favor – he should help him amiably.

Post script: Compensating for an omitted celebration after the lockdown

Q: Is it possible to compensate a groom and bride who had to get married in a limited framework due to the lockdown?

A: With God’s help, when the lockdown is over, as long as the couple is within the first year of their wedding, their family and friends may arrange a feast in their honor, and in the zimun before Birkat HaMazon, they should add “Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘in whose abode there is joy’) and if there are ten men, they should bless “Niverech Elokeinu Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘Let us bless our God in whose abode there is joy’) [Ketubot 8a].

True, it is written in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer 62:13): “Nowadays all joy is granted and we do not say “in whose abode there is joy” except in the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh (seven days of festive banquets after a wedding).” However, when they could not rejoice properly during the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh, the joy can be compensated for during the first year (see, Pitchei Teshuva 20).

Kal ve’chomer (all the more so) in our days when joy has started to return through the building of the Land.

The writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the 15 volume series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" some of which have been translated into English, and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper.

This article appeared in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.