By Rabbi Label Lam
You shall not revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your
people and love your neighbor as your-self, I am HASHEM! (Vayikra 19:18)
Rabbi Akiva says, “Love your neighbor as your-self”: This is the
great-general principle of the Torah! (Talmud)
How is “loving your neighbor” the big idea in the Torah? That may well be so
for Mitzvos between man and man but what of the many Mitzvos between man and
G-d? How is being a loving neighbor a holy matter? Why is it included in
the litany of Mitzvos following the mandate to “be holy”? It seems like a
very pragmatic and common sense idea that anyone can easily figure out. Why
is the Possuk (verse) punctuated with the statement “I am HASHEM”? What
does that add to the mandate to love your neighbor?
A senior colleague in Israel told us that that when he was yet a young man
and pursuing his doctorate in philosophy his professor made the following
bold declaration; “The Jewish Bible is the source of human rights in the
world!” All of the students diligently wrote it down in their notebooks but
this curious fellow who was the only Jew in the class, promptly approached
the teacher and challenged him, “Where is it written so in the Jewish Bible?
Where is that verse that promises human rights?” The professor was a little
startled and he asked his student if he in fact agreed with his claim that
the Jewish Bible is the source of human rights in the world. The student
agreed wholeheartedly with the statement but he was merely curious as to
what the source might be. This was a case of the student giving the teacher
a homework assignment. And so it was the professor went to work scanning the
Bible and looking for that verse that grants human rights, but his search
proved fruitless. A week later he came back to class and admitted that he
could not find a single verse that supported his statement.
He also confessed how mystified he was because everybody in the history
department, and the literature department, and the sociology department
agreed with him. How could this be so? So he fed the question back to his
student, “Maybe you have the answer!”
This budding young Talmud scholar answered as follows: “Let’s take for
example one verse that Rabbi Akiva refers to as the “great-general principle
in the Torah” and that is “And you should love your neighbor as your-self!”
The implication of that statement is that everyone has a right to be loved.
When I walk into a room where you are obligated to love your neighbor, I
have a right to be loved! The only difference is that the Torah never came
as a “bill of rights” but rather as a “bill of responsibilities””. Now
imagine how much more love exists in a relationship when both parties know
what they owe in love as opposed when each demands that their rights be met.
How much more love is in the room when every member of a family knows that
they are duty bound to love and happily contribute. How much greater an
entire community or a nation can be when it is composed of individuals who
live up to this universal notion and categorical imperative to “love your
neighbor as your-self”! Compare that to a world of persons seeking only
Rabbi S. R. Hirsch ztl writes, “…when one directs his love to the well-being
of his neighbor, loves him as a being equally a creation of G-d…He proclaims
his love of G-d, by his love to His creatures!”
Where people seek their “human rights” while blind to their obligation of
love we can only hope for a barely civil society. However, looking to
establish a new world order, HASHEM offered the Torah to the Jewish People
on the condition that we would become an example of “a kingdom of priests
and a holy nation”.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.