Previously, we began outlining the parameters of the commandment of ‘love
thy neighbor’. We discussed how we should desire that other people
succeed in life and feel pain at their difficulties. The Talmud discusses
further the requirements of this commandment. It tells us of a great
Rabbi, Hillel, who was the leader in his generation. A non-Jew who wanted
to convert to Judaism came to him, and asked that Hillel teach him the
single most fundamental principle in Judaism. Hillel answered him, “do
not do to your friend that which is hateful to you.” In the Torah this
command is expressed in the positive sense - “love thy neighbor”, however
Hillel emphasized the negative aspect of not hurting others.
Most of us have good intentions towards others, we want to help them and
certainly do not want to cause them pain. However, all too often, we are
responsible for hurting their feelings or harming them in some way.
Hillel teaches us that one of the most basic principles underlying inter-
personal relationships is developing a sensitivity to the feelings of
others. A good way of doing this is to think about what things cause us
pain, and then develop an awareness of how those things can bother our
friend. For example, we often like to joke around about our friends, this
can be harmless but it can and often does upset the other person - most of
us, deep down, do not like it when others make fun of us, so how must our
friend feel when we do it to him?!
You may ask, there are some things that do not bother me, but may bother
my friend - must I also be sensitive to them? The answer is, ’yes’ - each
of us have our own attitudes and sensitivities - Hilllel was teaching us
that just like we expect our friends to be receptive to our unique needs,
so too we should do the same for our friend.
We can now more easily understand why Hillel said that not hurting others
is such a fundamental principle in Judaism. The root cause of an
inability to develop a relationship with Hashem is self-absorption. If a
person only cares about his own feelings and his way of looking at the
world, then he will be unable to accept Hashem’s ‘opinions’ about life as
expressed in the Torah. In contrast, a person who is not totally caught
up in himself and can relate to the feelings of other people can also more
easily accept that his outlook on life is not the only viable one. He
will be more willing to step out of his own self and try to understand how
Hashem ‘views’ the world.