Talmidav Shel Aharon
27-5767: Mitzvah 60 and 61
June 11, 2007
Mitzvah 60 – It is a positive commandment to bear affection for everyone in Jewry as for oneself.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “and you shall love your fellow as yourself ” (Lev 19:18) It is therefore necessary to have as much protective concern for another person’s physical self, his items of monetary value and his esteem, as for one’s own. If someone derives honor from another’s disgrace, he as no share in the world to come. And included in this positive commandment is the religious duty of making peace between a man and his friend. It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
Mitzvah 61 – It is a positive commandment to bear affection for a ger (stranger, convert)
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture states, “you shall therefore love the ger” (Deut. 10:19) This is a religious duty in addition to the precept, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) [since plainly a ger is included in general Jewry] The Holy One loves the ger since it is written, “He loves the stranger giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18) and it says, “you know the heart of the stranger” (Ex. 23:9) The meaning of ger here is one who has come from another land or another city to live with us and all the more certainly someone who has converted to Judaism. It is in force everywhere and always, for both men and women.
The plain meaning of this mitzvah is that we should love everyone as we would love ourselves. Or as the Sage Hillel put it so succinctly, “Do no do to others what you would not want them to do to you.” Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud notes that this is the most important Mitzvah in the entire Torah. It seems so simple but the implications are so great. If we understand that we are commanded, obligated and required to treat all people with the same respect that we feel we deserve we will find ourselves treating others with respect and acting humbly at all times. We are not better than other people, we are no worse, we are all the same, needing the same support, the same love and the same concern that all other human beings require. If we provide that for others, they will, return that favor in our time of need. It cannot be stressed enough. Give others the love and respect that we think we deserve and the world will be a far more peaceful and loving place.
So why is this so hard to do? Why is this commandment that is so important so universally ignored or challenged. I think of the joke where one man says to another, “the guy who said we should love our neighbor never had MY neighbors!” You see a hint of this even in the Hafetz Hayim’s statements. I am not sure why he needed to make this two separate mitzvot. The commandment is clear, “Love your fellow as yourself.” It does not say, as the Hafetz Hayim says, “to love your fellow Israelite as yourself.” But in many circles, some that are populated by very pious people, feel that it only applies to Jews. Implying that one is not required to treat non-Jews in this manner. While there are many important Sages in ancient and modern times who may hold this position, I , and many other Rabbis as well feel that this is a completely wrong interpretation. I will say it clearly and completely, Leviticus requires that we treat all people, Jews, non-Jews, converts, pagans, obnoxious people, people who are dumber than us, people who disagree with us, people who look different, people of a different gender, people who talk different, our enemies, the enemies of our friends, people who think they are better than us, people who are more popular than us, people who we feel are keeping us from our full potential, all of these must be treated at all times with respect just as we would want to be treated. In short, read this Mitzvah literally, “Love your fellow as yourself”.
A good friend of mine, Rabbi Irwin Kula of CLAL, teaches that if you can’t love your fellow as yourself, than don’t look at the other person to see why you can’t love him, rather look inside yourself. This does not mean you have to like everyone you meet, only that they deserve your respect at all times. No matter how you may feel about another person you should be able to sit at the same table, engage in civil discussion, not speak nasty words behind his or her back and not engage in gossip about anyone. If you disagree you are allowed to express your opinion, and you must listen to their opinion. You are to act with respect and civility at all times.
The reality is that if you keep just this one Mitzvah, it will bring in its wake almost all the other mitzvot as well. Just loving our neighbor as yourself, you will be on your way to observing all the mitzvot “bain Adam L’chavero” “between one human being and another.” We can say even further that if we treat all human beings with kindness and love, we are also in fulfillment of most of the other commandments which are “bain Adam L’Makom” “between a human being and G-d”. It is for this reason that the modern Siddur used by the Conservative movement includes, near the beginning of the morning service, a prayer offered by the “Ari” in the 17th century. “Behold I am about the fulfill the Mitzvah of my Creator to Love my fellow human being as myself”. If we can say this prayer first thing every morning, and let is guide us all day, it will be much harder to go astray from the path G-d desires. One last point, note the punishment for one who derives a living from embarrassing or deriving personal honor from disgracing someone else. Such a person loses his or her share in the world to come. Trafficking in gossip, trading in slander and promoting yourself by denigrating someone else, is a high crime indeed. Speak only of your own good points and never put anyone else down so you can look better. The Hafetz Hayim reminds us that there are special punishments in hell for those who would make a living doing this. This is why we all need to be so careful and “Love our neighbor as yourself.”