Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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7 Iyar 5764 - April 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Like You, Verily

by L. Jungerman

"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 like yourself."

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 this possible?

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 envy!

"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 might.

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 a child.

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 as myself."

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!"

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