'The Loving One's Neighbour as Oneself'
'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Akiva says: This is the greatest principle of the Torah. Ben Azzai says; 'This is the book of the generations of Adam' (Genesis 5:1) is a greater principle.
Ben Azzai said: '"This is the book of the descendants of Adam" (Genesis 5:1) is a great principle of the Torah.' Rabbi Akiva said: '"And you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is an even greater principle.' Hence, [from Ben Azzai's statement you can deduce that] you must not say: 'Since I have been put to shame, let my neighbour be put to shame. Rabbi Tanchuma said: If you do, know Whom you put to shame, [for] 'in the likeness of God did [God] make him' (Genesis 5:1).
From our teacher, the rabbi, Rabbi Raphael [of Bershad (died between 1816 and 1826)]--may his light shine upon us: '"You shall love your neighbour as yourself"--said Rabbi Akiva: This is the greatest principle of the Torah'. The SHeLaH (R. Isaiah Horowitz, c.1570-1626) poses the question that this is all very well with respect to [commandments] between one person and another, but with respect to [commandments] between a person and God, what is there to say? See there.
At first, he--may his light shine upon us--said: 'According to the plain meaning, when a person loves, the Shechinah rests upon them. In this way, 'all workers of iniquity are dispersed' (Psalm 92:10) and it is easy to fulfil the Torah.
Later he expounded along the lines of what is written in the writings of R. Fradl [of Brody?] that this is by virtue of not being impatient with one's fellows, but accepting everything with patience, without one's heart becoming agitated and being impatient about the slightest thing. Without all this, it is impossible to fulfil 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' unless one has set aside the attribute of impatience, which is [derived] from the attribute of Power (Gevurah), and in this way, does not use the attribute of Power in matters of this world. [Then] it is easy [to utilize] the power of this attribute to be fearful and agitated before the blessed God. And this is the greatest principle of the Torah.
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For the sake of my brothers and neighbours, I would like to speak this once, and would like to tell you, whom my soul loves, that you should know for sure that it is impossible for a person to enter fully into the fundamental and essential service [of God] mentioned above, without getting oneself into the habit of fulfilling two positive, general commandments that are in the holy Torah.
The first is the positive commandment: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18), and rightly did Rabbi Akiva say of it that it is the greatest principle in the Torah (Bereshit Rabbah 24:7 & Sifra 89b). The second depends upon [the first] and it is the positive commandment of 'You shall judge your people with righteousness' (Leviticus 19:15). Both of them are said in parashat Kedoshim that one may be called 'holy' (kadosh). When a person does them continually one certainly will enter a level high [enough] for one to be called 'holy.' That is, one should love one's fellow [human being] as one's soul and one's body, in all matters, in fact.
Just as one is happy when God--may God be blessed--gives one some benefit, so too one should rejoice and be happy when some benefit comes to one's fellow. Similarly, in the opposite [case], one should join with them in their trouble, and be sorrowful and anxious in the bitterness of their heart as if--God forbid--it had come upon oneself--may the Merciful One preserve us. Similarly, in action: one should really do what one's fellow wants, just as one does what one wants for oneself. And similarly, one should not do anything to one's fellow which is against his will, just as one would not do to oneself anything that is against one's own will. This is the essential intention of the Creator--may God's name be blessed and exalted--when the positive commandment 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' was given....
The positive commandment of 'You shall judge your people with righteousness' means that one should judge one's fellow on the side of merit with regard to any matter and any act that one's fellow might do. Even if merit is far from reasonable, the Creator--blessed be God--commanded [people] to bring one's heart [to thoughts of] merit nevertheless. This is dependent upon and tied up with the positive commandment of 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself,' for it is clear that if one judges one's fellow on the side of guilt even once, in the end one will be unable to fulfil the positive commandment of 'You shall love as yourself' totally and completely, as I will explain shortly below, with the help of God.
These two commandments may be fulfilled at any time, hour or moment--that is, the positive commandment of 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' can be fulfilled by a person at any time in deed or in thought. How? If one actively does something for one's fellow one is actively fulfilling the positive commandment of 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' And if one sees or hears something good concerning one's fellow, and is happy and rejoices wholeheartedly, as if that good had actually come to oneself, then one has fulfilled this positive commandment of 'You shall love [your neighbour as yourself]' in thought. And similarly--God forbid--in the opposite [case]--may the Merciful One preserve us.
Thus, this positive commandment may be fulfilled by a person at any time that it comes into one's hand, even if one is in the bath or some other unclean place. Similarly, the positive commandment of 'You shall judge your people with righteousness' may be also fulfilled by a person in thought at any time that it occurs--which is not the case with the other positive and negative commandments among all the six hundred and thirteen commandments. And even in a place that is unclean a person can raise to consciousness [one's] happiness at a fellow's benefit, whether on a weekday or on Shabbat or a festival; and on a weekday one can also experience the pain of a fellow's trouble, which is not the case with other commandments that depend on a time or place.....
Meditations before prayer:
Behold I am taking upon myself the positive commandment 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' and I love everyone of Israel with all my soul, with all my heart and with all my might.
...Mentally love every individual in Israel, in order to raise your prayer in conjunction with [that of] all the others.
There are those who pray and are answered, and there are those who pray and are not answered. The reason [for this] is because of the pain and the insult that one's friend [has suffered] that has not risen to consciousness in the mind of the worshipper. It is possible that one would not be answered, because it is incumbent upon him to think: 'If I were suffering the pain that this [person] is, I would need to pray about it.' It is written: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18), and since he is not pained by the pain of a righteous person, it is not possible that he be answered. Therefore, all the prayers and supplications were ordained [to be recited] in the plural: 'Heal us,' 'Look to our affliction,' and it is written: '[God] will show you compassion and be compassionate to you' (Deuteronomy 13:18)--one who is compassionate will receive compassion [Tosefta, Bava Kama, end ch.9]. And if not, then what is the distinction between this person and an animal that is not feel the pain of its fellow. Of him it is said: 'And the superiority of the human being over the animals is nothing' (Ecclesiastes 3:19).
The holy rabbi [Moshe Leib of Sasov, (d.1807)] before prayer, while reciting [the meditational formula] 'Behold, I am prepared and ready to fulfil the positive commandment of "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)' used to work on himself so that his mouth and his heart were in unison so he could love any Jew as himself. At the same time, there was a certain man who did not go to pray. Once, when [Rabbi Moshe Leib] was ready to go to pray, that man came and asked him for bread to eat, but he didn't want to wash his hands or say the blessings before and after, so [the rabbi] asked him: 'My brother, is this possible? Why do you act this way?' But [the man] was insulting, and shouted various abuses. Immediately, [this] confused [Rabbi Moshe Leib's] thoughts and imagination, so how could he now go to pray, and how could he fulfil the positive commandment of 'You shall love [your neighbour as yourself]' with a common person like this? He calmed himself and said [to himself]: 'It is written: "Bring a gift to one who is feared" (Psalm 76:12), and it says in the midrash that all rulers will bring gifts to the Messiah. But does our Messianic King need their gifts? Does he need silver, gold, and precious stones? The commentators explain the nations of the world will gather the dispersed of Israel from the four corners of the world and bring them as a gift to the Messiah. But it is difficult to see how it is possible that one who has the fear of GOD in his heart needs to be brought to the Messiah. Wouldn't [a person like that] leap to be with the Messiah? And [after all], all disabled people will be healed then! But without doubt, a person like this, who says "What is the Messiah to me?" would not wish to go. But people like this will bring a gift to our messianic king! In any event, if this is considered a [proper] gift for our messianic king, perhaps the scattered of Israel who are like them will also be considered as such. Therefore, they will be important to the Messiah; then he must also be important to me and I must honour him and love him. Behold, I love him, and behold, I am fulfilling [the commandment of] "You shall love your neighbour as yourself."'
(But some say that the plain meaning of 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' is that if there is a bad person and someone who loves me, then someone loves him. Then I too should love him, because he is loved by someone who loves me.)
I heard that once, in the middle of the night, an old non-Jewish sinner came and knocked on the window of [Rabbi Moshe Leib's] home, in order that someone should open the door for him and allow him inside. The holy rabbi--may his memory live eternally--was deep in study, and was angry with him: 'How dare this old non-Jew knock on his window to be let in! What is this non-Jew to me!' But he calmed his mind: If GOD has borne him in this world, perhaps he should be here. And therefore, he too would bear him, so he opened the door for him and let him in so he could sleep there.
[Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz] spoke at length about the love of Israel, [saying] that one must love every individual of Israel, and when you sees that someone hates you, you must love them more, for Israel is a Throne for the Shechinah (Presence of God) and for holiness. When--God forbid!--there is a rift between them, as it were, a hole, an empty space, is created in the Throne, and then, in this way, holiness falls into the [power] of the 'shells' (kelippot) [of evil]--God forbid! Therefore one must love others a great deal in order to close up the empty space [in the Throne].
Let no one say: 'I cannot enter into this quality' for this is a lie. Certainly, by oneself, one may not be able to [do this], but with the help of the blessed God, one can attain to the service of the divine [and thus to the love of Israel]. This quality can bring the Messiah, i.e. by loving every person, even the completely wicked, for hatred without cause destroyed our Temple, and because of our sins, it is still 'dancing' among us. Therefore, one must strive to bring oneself to this quality....
Know that all Israel are mystically one body of the soul (nishmat) of the First Person, as is well known among us... and each individual of Israel is a particular limb, for this is the surety that a person gives a colleague should they sin. Therefore, my teacher [the 'Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572)]--may the memory of the righteous be a blessing in the world-to-come--used to say the detailed confessions in their entirety, even those that did not apply to him. And he used to say that even if they were not found in oneself, one should make confession for them. Thus, [our sages of blessed memory] arranged [the confessions] in the plural: 'We have sinned...,' not 'I have sinned,' because all Israel is one body. Therefore, even if a particular transgression does not apply to someone, it is appropriate that they confess it, for when one's colleague does it, it as if one had done it oneself; hence, they are recited in the plural. Even someone praying on their own, praying and making confession in their own home, should recite them in the plural, for whatever sin another person commits is considered as if it were together with one's own sins, because of the [principle] of the surety of souls.
And it also says: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself.' (Leviticus 19:18). Our sages of blessed memory were aroused to say this: 'Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else' (Talmud, Shabbat 31a), and in Nedarim [cf. Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4], they also say: 'If someone cut their hand with a knife, is it conceivable that that person would cut the hand that cut [in retaliation]? Do not both belong to the same person?' [This must apply] particularly [to] 'your neighbour' in Torah and mitzvot, but [Proverbs (8:13) says: the fear of GOD is hatred of evil;] pride, arrogance, the way of evil and perverted speech do I hate.' So, it is a mitzvah to hate such a person and there is nothing here of 'You shall not hate [your brother in your heart]' (Leviticus 19:17).
My teacher said to me: Set aside 'what is hateful to you...,' but [consider] 'Someone cut their [own] hand'. What is the proof [for this statement]? It is this: it is possible to do something bad to someone else, but to one's [own] hand is impossible.
[Then] he said to me: My son, a person is ipso facto to be honoured by another, for, look here, humanity was created in the image of God, so that the head contains the three spiritual qualities, Keter ('Crown'), Hochmah ('Wisdom'), and Binah ('Understanding'), the arms [represent] Hesed ('Lovingkindness') and Pachad ('Fear'), the heart Tif'eret ('Beauty'), the thighs Netzach ('Victory') and Hod ('Majesty'), the genitals Yesod, the corona Malchut.
When [one realises] that this is so, one truly knows that any annoyance, blow or curse that one brings to a person affects [what is] above. Thus, the law does not even allow spitting in front of someone. This is what it means: Just as one hand which has cut its mate with a knife is unable to cut the other, so too one who strikes, or curses, a fellow human being, [the other] may not return to pay him back, for the only pay-back is above. Truly, my son, the outer, inner and physical realms are all inter-connected ('achuzim zeh bazeh), like branches or a chain. And all of them have a Sovereign Who issues decrees. Therefore, my son, be careful of the humanity's form (tzurah), and do not treat it lightly.