Loving Your Fellow Jew
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky
1. The Importance of Loving Your Fellow
The Torah states that one is not permitted to take revenge against his
fellow Jew nor should he harbor ill feelings in his heart towards his
fellow. As the Torah states, "You shall love your fellow Jew as you love
yourself - I am Hashem." This Dictate follows many other Commandments,
which are enumerated in the Torah relating to one's obligation to his
fellow Jew. The Torah lists many Negative Commandments prior to stating
this Positive Commandment such as: not hating one's fellow, not tale
bearing, not putting a stumbling block, etc. In essence the basis of all
shortcomings between a Jew and his fellow is rooted in not observing the
Commandment - "You shall love your fellow Jew as you love yourself..."
If one truly loved his fellow as he loved himself he would not cheat,
slander, steal from, or harbor ill feelings towards his fellow Jew. Every
failing in the obligations between man and man stem from a failing in not
loving one's fellow as he loves himself. The Gemara states that Sinas
Cheenam (Baseless Hatred) is the cause of Lashon Harah (Evil Speech). If
one truly loved his fellow Jew as he loved himself there would consequently
be no Sinas Cheenam nor would there be Lashon Harah.
Rabbi Akiva states that the Commandment, "You shall love your fellow Jew
as you love yourself..." is a Commandment that encompasses the Torah in its
entirety because if one adheres to this principle then he will not violate
any of the other Commandments. It is understandable that if one observes:
"You shall love your fellow Jew as you love yourself..." properly, then he
will not transgress any of the principles that govern the interaction
between man and his fellow man. However there are many Commandments in the
Torah that deal with man's relationship with G-d. For example, dietary
laws, observing Shabbos, etc. are all Commandments that govern our
obligations to Hashem and not to a fellow Jew. Nevertheless Rabbi Akiva
says that the Mitzvah- "You shall love your fellow Jew as you love
yourself..." encompasses all of the Commandments. How do we understand this?
The Gemara in Tractate Shabbos tells us that a non-Jew asked Hillel to
teach him all of the Torah while standing on one foot (in a single
concept). Hillel responded to the non-Jew, "Whatever you despise do not do
to your fellow." This is the all-encompassing principle of the Torah and
the rest is commentary. Once again we see that the principle of loving
one's fellow as he loves himself encompasses to the entire Torah. However
it remains difficult to understand how the obligations between man and G-d
are encompassed in this principle. When one transgresses against G-d how
does he affect any other person beside himself?
The Gemara in Tractate Berachos says that if a person eats without first
reciting a blessing it is as if "he stole from G-d and the Jewish people."
Rashi explains that in life everything is determined by merit. If one is
worthy then Hashem provides endless blessings for man to partake of it;
however, if one does not acknowledge G-d through a blessing (e.g. the Jew
who does not recite the blessing before eating) then Hashem will withhold
His blessing from the Jewish people.
One's worthiness to receive blessing is determined by the degree that
one fulfills his obligation as a Jew towards G-d. Based on this principle
we can now understand that even the obligations between man and G-d affect
the existence of the Jewish people as a whole. If a Jew observes the laws
of Shabbos and dietary laws then he brings Hashem's blessing upon the
Jewish people; however, if he does not then all existence is negatively
impacted. Thus, "You shall love your fellow Jew as you love yourself..."
is a Commandment that encompasses the Torah in its entirety because if one
loves his fellow as he loves himself he will not even transgress the Laws
of the Torah that pertain to man's obligation to Hashem nor his fellow.
Often when we say Tehillim (Psalms) on behalf of our brethren in Israel
who are experiencing grave difficulties, we do not necessarily say the
Tehillim with proper concentration. If one's relative were ill, G-d
forbid, would one not recite the Psalms with more fervor? If so why do we
differentiate? The answer is that we need to strengthen this aspect of our
Judaism to love our fellow Jew as we love ourselves.
2. The Value of a person is his Spiritual Function
The Torah tells us that there are particular laws that pertain to the
Kohen Gadol (The High Priest) that do not pertain to an ordinary Kohen
(Priest). For example, a Kohen is not permitted to contaminate himself
with the dead; however, an ordinary Kohen is permitted to contaminate
himself with his seven closest relatives (wife, children, parents,
etc.). The Kohen Gadol, by contrast, is not permitted to contaminate
himself even with his closest relatives. The only circumstance in which
the Kohen Gadol is obligated to contaminate himself is if he comes upon a
corpse of a Jew whose burial needs were left neglected (Meis Mitzvah). We
find a similar prohibition regarding the Nazir (The Nazerite is not
permitted to drink wine, cut his hair, or become contaminated with the
dead). The Nazir's restrictions regarding his contamination of the dead is
identical to the Kohen Gadol: he is not permitted to contaminate himself
with the dead even with his closest relatives.
The Torah states that if the wife of the High Priest passes away, he is
not permitted to contaminate himself with her remains. The same is true
if, G-d forbid, his children pass away. According to one opinion in the
Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin, the Kohen Gadol is not even permitted to walk
on the same street with the coffin containing his relative's remains
because there is a concern that he may contaminate himself with them. King
Solomon tells us, "Deracheha darkchei noam... (the ways of the Torah are
pleasant)"- meaning that the laws of the Torah are not harsh or painful. If
this is the case, how do we understand the Torah denying the Kohen Gadol to
greave over those who are closest to him in the same manner as other Jews?
It would seem that these laws are not in sync with the principle stated by
The link that a Jew has with Hashem is through the Kohen Gadol. The
Kohen Gadol is the representative of the Jewish people who enters into the
location of the Shechina (The Divine Presence) (The Holy of Holies)) to
beseech Hashem on our behalf. The Gemara tells us that each of the
vestments of the Kohen Gadol atoned for the various sins of the Jewish
people. There is an ongoing atonement process on behalf of the Jewish
people that can only come about because of the spiritual dimension of the
Kohen Gadol. If the Kohen Gadol should be disqualified from his service-
through the contamination of the dead or for any reason, the ongoing
process of atonement and link to Hashem through him is disrupted.
It is not that the Torah wishes to deny the Kohen Gadol the same
privileges of the ordinary Kohen regarding contact with his closest
relatives; but rather, it is because of the dimension of function and value
of the Kohen Gadol vis-ŕ-vis the Jewish people that he is prohibited to
contaminate himself. Since the Kohen Gadol acts as the representative of
the entire Jewish people, his value is immeasurable; he therefore cannot be
permitted to become contaminated. It would be an act of unlimited
insensitivity and even cruelty to the Jewish people if the Kohen Gadol were
permitted to contaminate himself.
It is understandable that the Torah prohibits the Kohen Gadol from
contaminating himself with the dead because of his special role in Klal
Yisroel; however, why is the Nazir (The Nazerite) prohibited from
contaminating himself even with the death of his closest relatives? The
Nazir is a Jew who wishes to become closer to Hashem by denying himself
certain things such as drinking wine, cutting his hair, and coming in
contact with the dead.
The Torah says that at the conclusion of the Nazir's state of
Nazeritehood he is required to bring a sin offering. The Ramban asks - if
the Torah refers to him as a "kaddosh (holy person)" why at the conclusion
of his Nazeritehood must he bring a sin offering? The Ramban answers that a
Nazir when he enters into the state of Nazeritehood enters and achieves a
special level of spirituality. When he concludes this period of holiness,
he leaves this special level and reverts back to his ordinary level. The
reason why he must bring the sin offering is because he is no longer at
that special level. The special person who became a Nazir has a dimension
of spirituality and holiness that is valuable to the Jewish people and the
world as a whole. When that person ceases to be the Nazir and returns to
being ordinary he no longer provides that special value.
The tzaddik (righteous person) who denies himself even those things that
are permitted to him has immeasurable value to the Jewish people. The
Gemara in Tractate Succah states that the entire world stands on the merit
of the "36 hidden Tzaddikim" because of their merit. The status of the
Nazir, when he is in his state of Sanctity, brings about special merit to
the Jewish people. Allowing him to be contaminated even with his closest
relatives would deny the Jewish people of that merit- which is a loss that
is incalculable. We see from the Kohen Gadol, the Nazir, and the special
tzaddik that a person's true value vis-ŕ-vis Klal Yiroel is based on his
The Gemara in Tractate Berachos states that the world exists because of
tzedakah (charity). Even the wealthiest individual needs charity to exist.
If it were not for the Tzedakah of Hashem the world would not exist. The
question is why does the world merit Hashem's Tzedakah? The answer is- it
is through the merit of the tzaddikim, the Kohen Gadol, and the special
holy person (the Nazir) that Hashem sustains the world. Therefore it is
crucial to the existence of the world for these special people to maintain
their state of purity.
When one is able to understand the value of tzaddikim and their
spirituality one will then comprehend that if there is a problem in the
physical realm it is only because there is a problem in the spiritual
realm. Unfortunately we see from the current situation, with this seemingly
irresolvable state of affairs, that we are truly in need of spiritual
3. Hashem Favors the Pursued
The Torah tells us that the ox, the sheep, and the goat are the species
that qualify to be brought as offerings to bring about atonement. The
Yalkut (Midrash) explains the reason why the Torah chose only these species
to be brought as sacrifices is because of a principle that is stated by
Shlomo Ha'Melech (King Solomon), "Elokeem Yevakeish HaNirdof, (G-d) favors
the pursued." The Midrash explains that regardless of the status of the
pursued party, Hashem will favor that person because he is pursued. For
example, even if a tzaddik (righteous person) is pursuing a rashah (evil
person), Hashem will favor the rashah because the rashah is the pursued.
The Midrash provides many examples of the application of this concept
from the beginning of time. For example, Abel was pursued by Cain and
Hashem favored Abel (He received his offering). Noach was pursued by
people of his generation and Hashem favored Noach. Avraham was pursued by
Nimrod (The King who decreed that Avraham should be cast into the fire) and
Hashem loved Avraham. Yitzchak was pursued by the Philistines, Yaakov was
pursued by Esav, Yosef was pursued by his brothers, Moshe was pursued by
Pharaoh, and the Jewish people are pursued by the nations of the world. In
all these cases Hashem favors the pursued over the pursuer. Therefore
since the ox is pursued by the lion and the sheep is pursued by the wolf
and the goat is pursued by the mountain lion, Hashem favors these species
over other species and therefore only they qualify to be brought as offerings.
The question is- is King Solomon telling us that Hashem's Mercy is so
great that although the pursued is undeserving he is nevertheless favored
by Hashem? Does Hashem value the pursued only because he is the
"underdog"? Were Abel, Noach, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef, Moshe, and
Klal Yisroel special only because they were pursued?
The state of being pursued is a state of realizing that a person has
nowhere to turn to escape the advances of his pursuer. When a person finds
himself in this situation, he will realize that his only salvation can come
through the Mercy of G-d. If the pursuer fully comprehends his
helplessness, he will then introspect, do teshuvah (atone for his sins),
and turn to Hashem. It is not that Hashem simply favors the pursued; but
rather, the pursued (because of his situation) draws himself closer to Hashem.
The Midrash tells us that Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous.
The Matriarchs were barren only so that they should pray to Hashem for
children. Their desire for progeny caused the Matriarchs and the Patriarchs
to pray to Hashem at a level that under normal circumstances they would not
Spiritual rehabilitation and atonement can only come about if a person
understands that he is totally dependent on the Mercy of Hashem. When one
brings a sacrifice for atonement, he must realize that in truth that
because of his spiritual failing he should have been killed and his remains
burnt. However, it is only through the Mercy of Hashem that He is willing
to take a sacrifice in his stead. Therefore the species that most identify
with this necessary mindset for atonement are only the pursued species.
4. Understanding the Atonement Process
The Torah tells us that the ox, sheep, and the goat are the only species
that qualify to be sacrificed as offerings to bring about atonement. The
Midrash explains that the reason why these species are considered so
special is because each of them represents and corresponds to each of the
Patriarchs - Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. In order for one to be able to
have atonement for his sins he needs to rely on merit; therefore, because
these species identify with the Patriarchs (who have great merit), they
bring about the necessary atonement.
The Midrash states that the ox corresponds to the merit of Avraham and
can bring about atonement because when the angels came to Avraham the Torah
tells us that he "ran to the cattle" (he ran to slaughter the ox to feed
his guests). The sheep corresponds to the merit of Yitzchak because at the
Akeida (The binding of Yitzhak) the Torah tells us that he "saw the ram
(same species as sheep) caught in the thicket" and it was subsequently
sacrificed in his place. The goat has relevance to the merit of Yaakov
because his mother Rifkah told him to "bring two goats from the flock to
prepare delicacies for his father Yitzchak (before receiving the
blessings)." When each of these animals is sacrificed as an offering,
Hashem recalls the merit of each of the Patriarchs that is associated with
that particular species. Consequently the person is able to attain
spiritual rehabilitation in the merit of the Patriarchs.
We read in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers), "The world stands on
three principles: Torah, Avodah (Service to Hashem), and Gamilas Chassadim
(acts of loving kindness)." Rabbi Chaim of Volozin zt'l comments that
each of these principles correspond to a specific Patriarch. Avraham is
associated with Acts of loving-kindness because he was continuously engaged
in chesed (kindness). Our Patriarch Yitzchak is associated with Avodah
(Service to Hashem) because he was "the unblemished offering" at the time
of the Akeidah. Yaakov represents Torah study because the Torah refers to
him as, "The man of the tent (tent of Torah)."
Rabbi Chaim of Volozin zt'l explains that the person is comprised of
three parts: the life source (Nefesh), soul (Nishama), and spirit (Ruach).
Nefesh represents physical movement and is the same life source that
mankind shares with the animal. The Nishama is the soul that man possesses
which causes him to be an intellectual being. Ruach (spirit - which means
wind) is the spirit that gives man the power of speech (the ability of
expression). Rabbi Chaim explains that just as each person is comprised of
these three elements, Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) as a single entity
also possess these three components.
He explains that Avraham, our Patriarch corresponds to the Nefesh (life
source) of Klal Yisroel because his most prominent characteristic was doing
acts of chesed, which requires physical movement. Therefore, Avraham
established the Nefesh of Klal Yisroel through his acts of chesed. Yitzchak
was the "unblemished offering" and just as the Kohen needed to be pure in
thought -not to disqualify the offering- so too was Yitzchak pure in
thought when he was brought as an offering. He therefore corresponds to
the Nishama of Klal Yisroel. Yaakov, our Patriarch who was continuously
engaged in Torah study, corresponds to the Ruach (power of speech) of Klal
Yisroel because Torah is studied through articulation.
Rabbeinu Bachya states at the beginning of his commentary on the Portion
of Vayikra that when a person brings an offering to be sacrificed; he needs
to first make a verbal confession for his sin, then he must lean on the
head of the animal with both of his hands (smicha), and finally he must
burn the innards of the animal which include the kidneys. Rabbeinu Bachya
explains that each aspects of bringing a sacrifice atones for a specific
element of one's sin. The verbal confession atones for the stage before
one commits a sin when he expresses his intent to transgress (corresponding
to Ruach). Leaning (Smicha) on the animal atones for the person's act of
transgression (corresponding to Nefesh). The burning of the kidneys (which
is connected to one's intellect) atones for the thoughts that went into
planning and executing the transgression. The burning of the kidneys
rehabilitates the person's Nishama (soul/intellectual capacity).
The atonement process touches upon and rehabilitates every aspect of a
person's existence - his Nefesh, Nishama, and Ruach. We now have a deeper
understanding why the Torah selected specifically the ox, the sheep, and
the goat as the species to be brought as offerings. These species
correspond to each aspect represented by the Patriarchs. Consequently,
these species represent and rehabilitate every aspect of the human make-up.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Kalatsky is the founder of the Yad Avraham Institute, a New York-based learning center whose mission is to disseminate Torah to Jews of all backgrounds and walks of life.