Love Your Neighbor: The Whole Torah?

Posted by – September 17, 2006

More Torah Commentary

Veahavta l’reyacha kamocha, or, in English, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) is one of the core mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah, and is in nearly every religion.

This is
counted in
Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos as its own commandment, but he also notes that this mitzvah falls under the umbrella of the mitzvah to emulate HaShem and “walk in His ways” (Deut. 28:9).

How can we possibly walk in the ways of Hashem? He’s an infinite force and we’re just flesh, but we can at least try by identifying what His ways are, then doing that.
Read the 13 attributes of Hashem here. Rambam writes in Sefer HaMitzvos: “To emulate Him, may He be exalted, according to our ability . . . that is to say, emulating His benevolent actions and esteemed qualities with which G-d, may He be exalted, is described.” The midrash (Sifrei) teaches: “Just as He is called gracious, so must you be gracious; just as He is called compassionate, so must you be compassionate; just as He is called holy, so must you be holy.” Thus, Torah compels you to continual, G-d based, self-improvement. It’s the ultimate self-help book.

And the core mitzvah of emulating Hashem is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Indeed, Rabbi Hillel famously taught that this mitzvah is the whole Torah. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation (commentary), go and learn” (Tractate Shabbas 31a).

How can one mitzvah encapsulate all the Torah and its 613 mitzvos? It’s a wild idea to try to process. The Baal Shem Tov, who made this mitzvah the cornerstone of the Hasidic movement, explained that “love your neighbor as yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love the L-rd, your G-d” (Deuteronomy 6:5), and he who loves their fellow loves G-d. How is this? Because loving the creation is loving the Creator, or, as the Tanya elaborates, honoring another person’s soul and its divineness is honoring G-d, because by loving someone else you overcome the cold, material world, and by this you love G-d. It is through this transcending of the physical world you achieve the goal of all Torah. Thankfully we have 612 other mitzvos, and must do them, but in loving your neighbor, just like in all those mitzvos, the purpose is elevating the mundane, elevate everything to be above the rest and connect you to holiness. “If I had to describe Judaism in one word,” rabbi Gavriel Sanders said, “it’d be ELEVATOR.”

Martin Buber wrote perhaps the best commentary on the “love G-d by loving each other” concept with his book Ich and Du (I and Thou). Buber wrote that when we have geniune love and regard for someone in an “I and Thou” relationship rather than the all-too-common “I and It” relationship, we reach G-d. When we rise above the consumer, the animal self, and set all notions aside to simply love another unconditionally, we access G-d like nothing else.

Veahavta l’reyacha kamocha.

Love more today.

Nick

Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion

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