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Save the Planet

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16-20 )

by Rabbi Jared Viders

"You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself - I am Hashem." (Lev. 19:18)

Rashi: "Rabbi Akiva said, "This is the great rule of the Torah."

* * *

There is support amongst our Sages that the command to "love your fellow as yourself" encompasses the entire Torah, all its dictates, mores and aspirations for the Jewish People and the human race at-large. Fine. Certainly sounds noble. Easily quotable. Frame it. Hang it in your office and we're good to go. Who could argue with "love your fellow?"

Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt'l, however, raised one point of contention. If you want to posit that the Torah's guidelines and commands regarding interpersonal relationships all fall within the ambit of "love your fellow," that is readily understandable. Giving tzedakah. Offering an interest-free loan. Hosting a guest. Returning a lost object and paying an employee in a timely fashion are all surely manifestations of someone interested in "loving his or her fellow." But that's only half the story.

What about hanging a mezuzah? Putting on tefillin? Shaking a lulav? What does my keeping Shabbos have to do with loving my neighbor? Where in the laws of keeping kosher do we find any echo whatsoever of "loving anyone" (other than the kosher butcher)?

Rav Elchonon responds along the following lines. Our performance of mitzvos creates a pipeline of blessing between God and our world. The more mitzvahs that are done, the more blessing - be it health, peace, prosperity, whatever the case may be - is showered upon the world. On the flip-side of the equation, when one transgresses the laws of the Torah and fails to adhere to its expectations, we jeopardize that pipeline and diminish the flow of goodness to the world.

From here stems the notion that a Jew can put on tefillin in Orlando and its positive ripple effects can be felt in London where a Jew out of work finally finds gainful employment. The keeping of Shabbos in L.A. can provide the spiritual 'tremors' that will bring a couple together beneath a chuppah in Johannesburg.

* * *

At the close of a long day in the beis medrash (study hall), the desks were piled high with books and books, tomes and tractates and commentaries, that were pored over throughout the day. Towards evening someone entered and remarked about the apparent state of disarray, to which one of the Rabbis "in-charge" responded matter-of-factly, "Well what do you expect, we were curing diseases in here today."

One notion that seemingly every Jew is aware of teaches us that "one who saves a Jewish life is as if he saved the whole world." We often ponder that statement and start imagining how that might materialize - diving into a pool to save someone from drowning, bravely rescuing souls from a house ablaze, etc. Rarely, though do we have the breadth or scope to even envision saving the whole planet (except those who grew up watching Superman battle it out with arch enemy Lex Luther).

Along these lines, we find the Rambam (Laws of Teshuvah, 3:4) writes: "Accordingly, throughout the entire year, a person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and transgression and the world as equally balanced between merit and transgression…if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others. This is implied by [the verse]] "A righteous man is the foundation of the world," i.e., he who acted righteously, tipped the balance of the entire world to merit and saved it." Imagine that. Saving the world. And how did you manage to do so? By leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Nope, by saying Shema. By running faster than a speeding bullet? No sir. Rather, by making Kiddush.

In this context, we can readily understand how the mitzvah of "love your fellow as yourself" does indeed encompass the entire Torah - from the precepts of justice and fairness that govern our inter-personal and societal interactions to the more esoteric notions of sha'atnez and tefillin that seemingly have no immediate bearing or impact on the world at-large.

Quite the contrary, every ounce of effort you exert in the fulfillment of God's Torah will undoubtedly result in positive repercussions on a global-scale - mouths will be fed, illnesses will be cured, lives will be enriched. The precise correlation remains way above our comprehension but our faith remains unshaken - the mitzvahs are our venue to bring goodness to the world at-large.

Good Shabbos.

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