Parshiyos Acharei Mos &Kedoshim; Love Thy Neighbour
Our second sedra this week features a famous mitzvah; ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha (19:18); that one is to ‘love your friend as yourself.’ It has been pointed out that there are two words in lashon hakodesh for saying friend; chaver and re’a. The difference is that chaver means someone who is similar to you; chaver shares a root with the word chibur (to join/connect) and chabura (a gathering) - a chaver is someone who is thus easy to befriend because he is just like you. But a re’a is someone who is different to you; he might have different goals, different viewpoints, and a different personality. For example a bride and groom are called re’im ahuvim; man and woman are different species, to say the least. Therefore, in choosing to use the word re’a, the Torah is commanding us to love even someone who is rather different to you. Anyway, this week we shall discuss what exactly this mitzvah of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha entails. Most of us assume that this mitzvah means that one must literally have the same love and care for someone else as one has for themselves. Indeed, this seems to be the opinion of the Rambam, who writes[1] ‘it is a mitzvah [incumbent] upon each person to love each and every Jew like himself, as it says ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha’ and elsewhere he writes[2] ‘we have been commanded to love each part of us (I.e. of our nation) like we love ourselves, and our love and pity/mercy for our brother(s) is to be like our love and pity/mercy for ourselves…’ However, it seems that the Rambam is alone in this view.[2b] The Sforno, Ramban, Chizkuni, Sefer Hachinuch, Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch, and the Netziv all hold[3] that the mitzvah is not to have the same love for your others as you do for yourself; this is impossible, because we were created with a natural love for ourselves which cannot be matched by love towards other people. And HaShem does not command that which is impossible. So what does the mitzvah of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha obligate? It obligates us to want good things to happen to other people just like we would want good things to happen to ourselves. And this view has support from the pasuk itself, as the Ramban and Chizkuni point out; it does not say love your friend as yourself (ve’ahavta es re’acha kamocha), but rather love to your friend as yourself (ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha), which means not that one has to really have the same love for others as one has for oneself, but rather that one is to show love to others by wanting good things to happen to them. Indeed, the Rambam also agrees[4] that this ‘wanting good for others’ is part of the mitzvah; he just holds that the main facet of the mitzvah which is to show the same love for others as one has for themselves.
So in summary: does ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha obligate one to have the same love for others as for oneself? The Rambam says yes, but the Ramban, Chizkuni, etc. say no. There are two questions asked on the Rambam’s view here, which we shall cite and try and answer. Firstly, the Ramban points out that there is a contradiction within ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha in the view of Rabbi Akiva. On the one hand, Rabbi Akiva said that ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha is the great rule of the Torah,[5] but another ruling of Rabbi Akiva seems to contradict this. The gemarra[6] brings a case of two Jews stranded in the desert, with only enough water for one of them to survive, and one of them is currently holding that bottle of water. Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is that the ‘water carrier’ should drink the watr himself, ands not give the water to his friend, because ‘your life takes precedence.’ Surely this goes against [the importance of] ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha? The Ramban says that this proves his view; that ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha never meant that one must love someone else to the same extent that one loves themselves. Instead, it means to want good for others, but one always tends to love themselves more than one loves most people (and so one may drink the water, because ‘your life takes precedence’). But how will the Rambam resolve this contradiction, if he holds that ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha obligates us to love others to the same extent as we love ourselves; why should the ‘water carrier’ not give the water to his friend? The answer here is that in view in the water-desert case, Rabbi Akiva is teaching us that ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha does not obligate one to give up his life, especially since one person currently had the water on him.
The second question on the Rambam is from a statement of Hillel. The gemarra[7] reports that a potential convert came to Hillel and asked to be taught the entire Torah whilst standing on one leg. Hillel responded ‘what is hateful to you do not do to your friend; this is the entire Torah, the rest is explanation - go and learn it.’ It seems that Hillel was paraphrasing the mitzvah of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha. If so, this seems to support the Ramban and Chizkuni’s view, because Hillel did not say that one must equate love of oneself with love of others; instead, he said that one must not do wrong to others. But according to the Rambam, why did Hillel not go the whole way in saying ‘one must love others in exactly the same way as one loves themselves?’ One could answer using Rashi’s first explanation[8] of the gemarra, which is that Hillel was not paraphrasing ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha; rather, the ‘friend’ here refers to HaShem, and so Hillel was telling this potential convert ‘do not do anything that is hateful to HaShem.[9]’ But I think that there is another answer for the Rambam, which brings out an important point about ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha and mitzvos which are rooted in thought in general. Let’s introduce this with another question. According to the Rambam, how are you supposed to go about fulfilling the mitzvah of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha; are you expected to sit there and meditate about your love for others? How are you supposed to foster this level of love for others if it does not come naturally?
The key is that such attitudes, feelings or emotions come about as the result of actions one does, as the Sefer Hachinuch explains in a few places.[10] It is only when these feelings, attitudes, etc. are clothed and expressed in the form of actions that they are internalised and take root within the person. Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch echoes the same sentiments in noting that the five mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro in the ten commandments go from mitzvos which are based in action (not killing, etc.) to those based in thought (not being jealous); because that is the order - these thoughts and attitudes are fostered and concretised by being expressed in the form of actions and deeds. This is the way one fully acquires the ability to love others as one loves oneself; one does actions which show love to others. And this is what Hillel was saying when he told the potential convert ‘what is hateful to you do not do to your friend;’ he did not merely say ‘love others as you love yourself,’ because he was teaching this potential convert how to go about fulfilling this mitzvah - by wrapping emotions of love in action to make them real. This principle is seen from the Rambam himself, who writes[11] ‘it is a mitzvah [incumbent] upon each person to love each and every Jew like himself, as it says ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha. Therefore one must sing the praises [of others] and have mercy on others’ property…’ The ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha feelings of love must be expressed in action in order to be wholesome. Similarly, in other places[12] the Rambam details acts of kindness which are obligated by or fulfil ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha; for example bikkur cholim, comforting mourners, and redeeming captives. I think that the practical message to take out of this discussion is that which the Ibn Ezra points out regarding the end of the pasuk ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha; ani HaShem. He points out that the words ani HaShem are explaining the reason for ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha; that ‘I am one G-D who created you.’ On one level, this means that since we are all brothers, we are to get along with and show love for each other. But on another level, it is alluding to the concept that we reflect HaShem in this world, and unity amongst Bnei Yisrael allows HaShem’s Shechinah to reside in this world; as the Maharit[13] points out regarding the communal effort in building of the mishkan. Similarly, it was when we put individual differences aside and we were ‘like one man with one heart’[14] that HaShem revealed Himself to us, so to speak, and gave us His Torah. As Rav Dessler points out, it is a focus upon spiritual goals that fosters peace and unity and obviates dispute, because, unlike with physical pursuits, there is enough room for each person to achieve their spiritual goals without infringing upon others.
Have a great Shabbos, [1] Rambam hilchos de’os 6:3 [2] Rambam sefer hamitzvos, positive mitzvah 206 [2b] Indeed, I have never understood how so many mefarshim can say that it is impossible to love others as one loves themselves, yet the Rambam holds that it s possible. Is there an argument on the facts??? If anyone has an answer please let me know. [3] They are all to be found in Vayikra 19:18, and the Sefer Hachinuch is in mitzvah 243 [4] Rambam sefer hamitzvos, positive mitzvah 206 [5] Midrash quoted in Rashi Vayikra 19:18 [6] Gemarra Bava Metzia 62a [7] Gemarra Shabbos 31a [8] Rashi Shabbos 31a ‘de’alach’ [9] It is possible that the Rambam hilchos avel 14:1 implies that he did not understand the gemarra like this Rashi [10] Sefer Hachinuch mitzvah 16, mitzvah 95 [11] Rambam hilchos de’os 6:3 [12] Rambam hilchos avel 14:1, hilchos mattanos aniyim 8:10 [13] Maharit, Tzafnas Pane’ach al HaTorah, first drush on Vayikra [14] Rashi Shemos 19:2

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