“Do not take revenge, do not bear a grudge against a member of your
people, love thy neighbor like yourself.1”
“Love thy neighbor” - is there any commandment more well-known than this?
Yet we must ask ourselves what this requires on an individual level?
Understood literally this would imply that we must have the same emotional
feelings of love to others that we naturally feel for ourselves. Yet is
this really possible? We all feel a very strong love for ourselves and it
is surely impossible to love other people to the same extent.
A more satisfactory explanation of this commandment is that it obligates
us to strive to desire that our friend succeeds in life. This attitude is
not based on emotions, rather it comes from an intellectual understanding
that the success of another person should also be a source of joy to
ourselves. In order to achieve this level we must work on removing
feelings of jealousy towards others. Jealousy comes when a person feels
threatened by his friends achievements, and feels inadequate as a result.
But we need to recognize that each person has his own unique set of
talents tailor-made for him to be able to fulfill his potential in life.
For example, the abilities required of a pitcher in baseball are very
different from those needed to be a great batter. Would a pitcher be
jealous of the batter’s ability to hit a ball very hard?! And likewise,
would a batter feel lacking if he could not pitch a ball as accurately as
the pitcher?! Of course not - they realize that they have a particular
role in the team that requires certain talents but not others. So too, I
have no reason to feel jealous of my friend’s abilities. Had I needed
them I would have been blessed with them!
Once we can internalize this idea then it will become far easier to share
in our friend’s joy and empathize with his pain. So, when a friend is
seeking employment, the command of “love thy neighbor” tells us that we
should strive to want him to succeed as much as we would want to succeed
ourselves. And if he fails in a test then we should try to imagine how we
would feel in the same situation and transfer that feeling to him. This
is one of the key aspects of ‘love thy neighbor’ and if we can live by
this then we can avoid unwarranted jealousy and feel far more content with
our lot in life.