"R' Akiva said: And you shall love your neighbor like
yourself -- this is a major axiom of the Torah"
A major axiom, and also a most difficult one. Exceedingly so.
To love a fellow Jew like oneself? Is such a thing humanly
possible? Can one be egotistic for someone else?
When Hillel encapsulated the entire Torah into one epigram
for the sake of an inquiring non-Jew, he said: "What you
despise, do not do unto others" (Shabbos 31). He
presented the Torah in a passive, rather than active, mode.
Avoid doing unto others what you would not have them do unto
you. Why didn't Hillel say more than this, i.e., to actively
love a fellow man as one does oneself?
The Maharsha explains that the Torah's injunction of loving
one's fellow man does not deal with the positive aspect of
benefiting another, since the Torah would not make such an
exalted demand of a person. In fact, Chazal teach elsewhere
that, "Your life precedes the life of your fellow man." How
then can we conceive of this obligation of loving -- in the
same way one loves oneself?
The answer is that the Torah is presenting this commandment
in the context of the preceding verses, as a continuation.
"Do not indulge in gossip-mongering amongst your people." "Do
not seek revenge or bear grudge." In the framework of these
commandments of refraining from doing harm to others comes
this inclusive, comprehensive charge to "Love your neighbor
The Rambam does present this commandment in an active form. "
. . . that one's love and pity towards his fellow man be like
his self-love and self-pity regarding his physical body and
possessions. What another wants for himself -- I should wish
upon him as well, and conversely, what I would wish for
myself -- I should desire for him, as well" (Sefer
Hamitzvos, Mitzva 206).
To love and have mercy upon another as I would upon my own
self, to seek for him whatever he desires for himself, plus
whatever I would want for my own self -- to such a degree? Is
Apparently, the Ramban also thinks that few people are
capable of this, for in his commentary, he writes: "The
reason the Torah determined ve'ohavto like yourself --
is to establish an ideal to strive for. For it is
inconceivable that a person should actually love his fellow
man as much as he loves his own self."
What, then? The Ramban interprets this commandment in
practical terms: To fargin, to rejoice in another's
good fortune, genuinely, in one's heart of hearts. And not to
"For sometimes a person may love his neighbor in certain
things and will not begrudge him his wealth or his cleverness
or the like. He may even wish upon his beloved comrade
wealth, property, honor and wisdom -- but not in equal
measure as himself. He will always secretly hope that his
friend not surpass him in any area. The Torah seeks to warn
us and protect us from this feeling. That one not be envious
in his heart but sincerely wish the very best upon his
friend, as he does for himself, without limit or measure."
How incisive are these words: not to set a limit for the good
of another. To freely `allow' him and to wish upon him every
benefit possible. With no "but's," no "Up till the throne,
where I will supersede you." But to really wish him the very
best, beyond what you might have, and to genuinely, sincerely
rejoice when he is thus blessed.
You should not measure your friend's success against your own
and hope in the recesses of your heart that he will not
surpass you. Your love should be limitless. "Dear Friend: you
may have whatever you already own, and may Hashem bless you
increasingly, a thousandfold."
And why not? What difference should it make to me; does he
then own anything at my expense? Do I have any the less
because he has more? And if I do happen to have less, is this
any reason why he should not have what he is blessed with?
Will any lack I have be made any easier for me if I know that
he is also lacking? Precisely because I know what it means to
be lacking and how much suffering it entails I should, as a
good friend, wish him to be spared that -- at least my friend
should not undergo what I am suffering. Is that not so?
It is definitely not an easy mitzvah. But who says that
mitzvos are better easy? If ve'ohavto is a major
precept of the Torah, it requires the investment of all my
Hillel Hazoken told the gentile that if he absorbs the
message of this mitzvah, then he has understood the entire
Torah in essence. It is the soul of the Torah; its premise
and basis. The Maharasha says that this is a demand that only
the Torah could make, and whoever can pass the test can
proceed with the other commandments as if they are the
details of the main clause, its expanded implementation.
If we would like to translate this idea into practical terms,
we can use the following example of a person invited to a
family simchah tendered by a friend. This is, in
effect, a public ceremony enacting the precept of
ve'ohavto! He is actually being invited to appear and
witness with his own eyes the joy of his neighbor, whether it
be at the occasion of a bris, bar mitzva or wedding of
He is being asked to participate in the rejoicing, to share
it together with his friend. Come and join us! Show that you
are happy for our sake, that you do not begrudge us this
simchah, that your heart is happy for our sake, that
we are in the limelight. Forget your own troubles at this
occasion and focus on our simchah, exclusively. Don't
make any comparisons now; don't measure who is ahead; don't
constrict your love, says the Ramban. Let go and be happy for
our sake. And joy is something that can be discerned on the
face; it can be heard in the tone of voice, in the hearty
warmth of the "Mazel Tov."
One must prepare oneself for this as for any mitzva
deOraisa. And the joy will be reciprocal when the roles
are reversed and you are the baal hasimchah. One must
constantly bear in mind, "No one touches anything designated
for his fellow by as much as a hairsbreadth." "In your name
shall they call you, and in your place shall they seat you,
and from your portion will they serve you," says Ben Azai.
And the Chovos Halevovos writes: "Nothing that is
fated to be later can come earlier, and nothing that is
destined to be early can be delayed." Surely we believe this
with all our heart and should truly exclaim: "I am hereby
prepared to carry out the commandment of loving my neighbor
The Mesillas Yeshorim expressed this demanding concept
in very simple terms, "Some people are not distressed by the
good fortune of their friends. Nevertheless, they do feel a
twinge in seeing a colleague passing them up in any area,
especially if he is not particularly a close friend. One may
mouth his joy at the other's good fortune and wish him well,
while tasting something bitter in his mouth. This is actually
a very common thing; while it does not reach the proportions
of actual jealousy, it still borders on it marginally."
Most people are like this, it continues. It is very difficult
to escape it. Those who can are truly few and exalted people.
But it explains how one can, nonetheless, try to tackle this
unfavorable trait. "If only people knew and understood that
no one touches anything destined for a friend by as much as a
hairsbreadth, and that everything comes from Hashem, as He
deems fit in His infinite and ineffable wisdom, then no one
would have any qualms or reservations in fully rejoicing with
a friend's good fortune."
And herein also lies the answer to the troubling question as
to why some people have it all so easy, despite the fact that
they are not better. Accepting and making peace with this
fact is so much easier when we truly believe that everything
we -- or anyone else -- have is ordained directly from
Hashem. "According to His wondrous counsel and inscrutable
wisdom." Hashem knows what He is doing, and before Him is
revealed the intricate world-encompassing reckonings
regarding the allocation of what to whom.
The Mesillas Yeshorim offers a synopsis in Chapter
Eleven: "The Torah came along and established a general rule
that encompasses everything in it: `You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.' Just like yourself, without any
difference. Like yourself, without exceptions, reservations,
strategies. Like yourself mammosh!"