The Torah famously instructs “you shall love your fellow as yourself, I am
G-d” (Leviticus 19:18). The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, love of a fellow
Jew is a maxim of Jewish living.
The mitzvah of loving one’s fellow Jew is an all-important principle of
Judaism. The magnitude of this mitzvah resonates in Rabbi Akiva’s
tenet “love your fellow as yourself is a great axiom of Torah” (Sifra,
Vayikra 19). Summarizing the Torah, Hillel told a would-be convert, “What
is hateful to yourself, do not do to your friend – all the rest [of the
Torah] is commentary” (Shabbos 31a).
Every Jew is to relate to his brethren and to always be sensitive to all
his fellow man’s needs. Indeed, more than just empathizing, he makes his
brother’s concerns his own.
But why is it necessary to love and wholeheartedly identify with every
individual member? How can one achieve this to “love your fellow as
yourself”? And what has the end of the verse “I am G-d” got to do with
this very interpersonal precept?
That the “commandments between man and his friend” and the “commandments
between man and G-d” share parity is manifest in the similar-sized Two
Tablets. They are on an equal footing. Neither is superior. Neither can be
neglected and, in fact, one cannot exist without the other.
In our relationship with our fellow man, the underlining factor cannot be
purely emotional feeling of “pity, compassion and humanity” per se but
rather of emulating “divinity” – namely of observing the divine will and
following in His footsteps. Which explains the stress placed in the
epitome of interpersonal conduct – loving one’s neighbor – that there must
be based upon the universal principle of “I am G-d”.
Interestingly, the mitzvah “You shall love Hashem your G-d with all your
heart…” (Deuteronomy 6:5) has its parallel in the law “You shall love your
fellow as yourself”. There is no contradiction here, as the two are
Special because he is fashioned “in the form of G-d” (Genesis 1:27), every
human being – without exception – is the spiritual handiwork of G-d and
endowed with “a divine spark” – a soul. This is the essence of the
individual’s identity, and for a Jew, the common characteristic he shares
with his brethren.
No matter their differences, the ability to love one’s fellow is via
relating to his soul. This explains a literal interpretation of the word
to love one’s neighbor Komacha, “as yourself” in the sense that the love
for another is, in truth, connecting with the very same component that
lies within yourself – namely identifying the innate holiness of the soul.
(In fact, Komacha has the identical numerical value as the Holy Name
Elokim (86) – highlighting the divine spark within man). Through this he
can successfully endeavor to attain a deep-rooted love for every member of
the Jewish people as he “tunes into” their spiritual roots. Indeed, the
Chasidic works teach that the pathway to “love of G-d” is exactly via
ahavas “love of a fellow Jew”.
The Jewish people are considered “one” entity.
That “all Jews are held responsible for one another” (Shevuos 39a) means
that each person acts as a surety for his fellow and to be entrusted with
the capacity to exempt another in a religious act (called Arvas,
guarantor). The mutual responsibility results from the common goal and
mission shared by the chosen people. So too, it makes no sense whatsoever
for one Jew to harm his fellow. Any harm is, in effect, self-inflicted.
Pulsating to the same heartbeat, the Jewish people share the common
aspirations in their national identity as the nation which embraced the
Torah at Sinai, when they stood, united “as one person with one heart”
An awareness of the G-dliness and potential greatness within one’s friend
makes it incumbent upon a Jew to love and respect every member of his
brethren. They are related to him and he is to them. Importantly, he
cannot lose sight of how me and my neighbor are, at root, one and the same.