Kedoshim: J-love

In this week’s parsha (Kedoshim), we find the command to love a fellow Jew: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 18:19). The rabbis of the Talmud have different things to say about this:
מסכת שבת  A 31 (זה כל התורה כולה (הלל הזקן
Hillel the Elder said, “This is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary” (Tractate Shabbat 31A)

תורת כהנים) זה כלל גדול בתורה (ר’ עקיבה)
“Rebbe Akiva said, This is an important general principle in the Torah.” (Torat Cohanim)

פרקי אבות 1:12 ) הלל אומר החי מתלמידיו של אהרן, אוהב שלום ורודף שלום אוהב את הבריאות ומתרבן לתורה
Hillel said, Be like the students of Aharon, love peace, pursue peace and love the creation [fellow man] and draw them closer to Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12)

The question we could ask here is: What did R’ Akiva add with his statement that the command to love a fellow Jew is an “important general principle”? Hillel the Elder already stated several generations earlier that love of a fellow Jew is “the entire Torah.” So, what is there to add?
We can gain insight by examining Hillel’s second statement, that we must love every Jew and draw him closer to Torah. Our question is: if our love for another Jew is unconditional (as it should be), then why do we need to “draw him closer” to the Torah? Sure, we are concerned for another Jew’s welfare and want to see him succeed under all circumstances, but why must we specifically “draw him closer to Torah”?
To answer this question, we must consider, what is greater, the Torah, or the Jewish people? On the one hand, it would appear that the Jews are higher than the Torah, for it is written that “The thought of [creating] the Jews was prior to everything else.” On the other hand, the Zohar tells us that “Three are inter-connected; the Jews, the Torah and the Holy One blessed be He.” That is, it is the Torah that connects the Jews with God, and therefore the Torah must be above and beyond the Jews.
The resolution of this seeming paradox is that the Jews are higher than all else when considered in their source – as a soul before it descends to become en-clothed in a body. On that level, the Jews are utterly united with their Creator, and nothing surpasses the spiritual level of the Jewish soul. However, after the soul descends to the body, and the body with all of its various lusts and desires, conceals and hides the spark of Godliness that is the soul, there is something higher than the Jews. That is the Torah, which connects and joins the Jewish soul, as it is down here in a physical body, with God above. Once the soul is within a body, it takes on some of the limitations of the body and it is only the Torah and its commandments that re-unify the Jews with their source. And that is why Hillel admonishes us, “love every Jew and draw them closer to the Torah.” Down here in this world, the greatest good that we can do for another Jew is to bring him to the Torah, because it is the Torah that uplifts him and unites him with his natural spiritual source.
Now, we may return to our original questions regarding the statements of Hillel and R’ Akiva; that is, what did R’ Akiva add with his statement that the command to love a fellow Jew is an “important general principle”? The answer is that Hillel’s first statement (love of a fellow Jew is “the entire Torah”) speaks of the Jewish soul as it exists above, united with God in the world to come. There, “we all have one Father,” and there is nothing other than Him. Therefore, the soul naturally loves God, and its love for a fellow Jew is a natural extension of its love of God. Because the soul loves God, it automatically loves all other Jewish souls (it’s “bretheren”), and on that level, love of a fellow Jew “is everything.” However, after the soul descends to a body, it becomes subjected to the whims, desires and concealments of the body. On that level, it is easy to see the shortcomings, the failures and the faults of other Jewish souls. It therefore becomes much more difficult for us to love fellow Jews. The influence of the body is felt, and we begin to feel at times more separate from other Jews than united with them. Under such circumstances, R’ Akiva declared that love of a fellow Jew is “an important general principle.” It is not the entire Torah, but it is a general principle that is important to observe since when the soul is enclothed in a body, it needs guidance and a legal framework in which to function; otherwise, it will drift away from God. Therefore, says R’ Akiva, love of a fellow Jew is an important principle to guide us in relating to other Jews, and there are other principles and details as well, to keep us on the straight path of connection with God as the soul exists in this physical world, enclothed within a body.
Moreover, had R’ Akiva not said that love of a fellow Jew is an “important principle,” we might have seen Hillel’s statement alone, that it is “the entire Torah.” And then, we might have thought that it is permissible to “bring the Torah to the Jew” – that is, to compromise and bend the mitzvoth of the Torah to make them seem more compatible to another Jew. However, R’ Akiva’s statement (as well as Hille’s statement from Pirkei Avot) tell us that the Jew must function in a structure and framework in order to unite with God while his soul is down here in a physical body. And therefore, it is incumbent upon us to draw the Jew closer to the Torah, and not the other way around.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol.17, pp. 215-224

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