Love in Two Dimensions

“…You should love your fellow as yourself…” – Vayikra 19:18

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – ויקרא יט, יח

There are two well-known sayings of the Sages regarding the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew. Rabbi Akiva said, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” — This is a fundamental principle of the Torah” (Sifra, Vayikra 19:18). Meaning, that this mitzvah is the underlying principle behind numerous mitzvos in the Torah, (namely, those that govern our interactions with others.) A few generations earlier, Hillel said even more than that. Hillel taught: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah, the rest is just commentary” (Talmud, Shabbos 31a).

These two sayings reflect two dimensions of the love we must have toward our fellow Jew, which in turn correspond to two different dynamics in the relationship between a Jew and the Torah.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 1:4) tells us that in “G-d’s thought” the Jewish people preceded everything, even the Torah itself. Meaning, that the Jewish soul, in its G-dly source, is rooted and attached to G-d to a degree that transcends even the G-dliness of the Torah.

Love in Two Dimensions

Nevertheless, when the soul descends to this earthly world, its connection to G-d is specifically through the Torah. The Zohar thus states, “The Jewish people attach themselves to the Torah, and the Torah is attached to the Holy One, Blessed be He” (see Zohar, vol. 3, p. 73a); i.e., as the Jewish soul exists in this world, its bond with G-d is revealed through the Jew’s observance of the Torah.

These two dimensions of the Jewish soul and its relationship with the Torah are reflected in the two teachings of our Sages cited above.

On the one hand, the essence of our love for our fellow Jew is the inherent unity of the Jewish people due to our common G-dly source—which transcends the Torah. Hillel therefore said that love for your fellow Jew isthe entire Torah. For through our love for one another, we reveal our (common) divine source, and this is truly the entire purpose of the Torah—to reveal the Jew’s essential connection to G-d.

Rabbi Akiva, however, spoke of the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew as it must be observed practically in this physical world, where the Jewish people’s connection to G-d is through our observance of the Torah. Accordingly, Rabbi Akiva could not say that this mitzvahis the entire Torah, because on this plane, even our love for our fellow Jew must be observed as one of themitzvos of the Torah. He therefore said that loving your fellow as yourself is a fundamental principle in the Torah, but at the same time may not override our observance of the rest of the Torah.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 17, pp. 219-224

 

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