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Love Your Neighbor

Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

"Do not take revenge; do not bear a grudge; love your neighbor like yourself." (1)

The mitzvah of 'love your neighbor like yourself' is described by Rabbi Akiva as being a great principle in the Torah.(2) Similarly, when a prospective convert asked Hillel to sum up the Torah 'on one foot' he answered him with this mitzvah, adding that the rest of the Torah is an explanation of it.(3) The Ben Ish Chai writes that, given it's centrality to the Torah, a very significant part of this mitzvah is overlooked by many people. He writes that while many people recognize how it requires a person to help his fellow in terms of his physical well-being, they are less aware that it also obliges him to help his fellow's spiritual health. Indeed he argues that helping his friend in the spiritual realm (ruchniut) is a far greater fulfillment of the mitzvah than benefiting him in the physical realm (gashmius).

He explains: "When one helps his friend in a physical sense, he expresses his care for his friend's body, however, man's body merely consists of a combination of blood and flesh! The main aspect of a person is his Godly aspect, his soul, and the soul gets no benefit from kindness in the physical sense. However, if one rebukes his fellow and prevents him from transgressing God's mitzvot, then he bestows a great kindness on his friend's soul, and love for one's fellow's spiritual side is far more important than love of his physical being." (4) The Ben Ish Chai teaches that in order to most effectively fulfill the mitvzah to love one's neighbor he cannot limit his kindness to the help in gashmiut, rather he must strive to help his spirituality to an even greater degree.

In this vein, the Orchot Tzadikim tells us that there are three main types of giving: Giving of one's money; giving of one's body and giving of one's wisdom. He goes on to discuss all three but he ends the chapter focusing on the giving over of Torah to others: "One must be especially giving with his Torah wisdom; to teach all men knowledge and to draw their hearts to heaven. This is the greatest of all the types of giving - giving to another to bring him to the life of the World-to-Come." (5) Similarly the Meiri in Pirkei Avot states; "there is no kindness in the world that compares to the one who gives merit to the many." (6) Likewise, Rav Aharon Kotler writes: "The main kindness one can do for others is to give over to them Torah and mitzvos and to distant them from the evil inclination. This is the greatest kindness in the world that one can do for another..." (7)

There are a number of ways of helping others in the spiritual realm. The Ben Ish Chai mentioned the greatness of rebuking others, however, in this generation, it is very difficult to rebuke in the correct way and therefore there is the risk that rebuking can do more harm than good. A less threatening way of helping others spiritually is by sharing one's Torah with them; Indeed there are many Rabbinical sources that indicate that teaching Torah is a fundamental part of each person's purpose in life: The Gemara in Rosh Hashana 23b says that one who learns and does not teach is like a myrtle tree in the desert. The Maharal explains that the myrtle is the most pleasant smelling tree and it is in the world for people to benefit from its pleasant smell. A myrtle that is in the desert does not fulfill its purpose because no-one can benefit from it. So too, Torah is there to be taught over to others and one who does not do so cannot fulfill his purpose in life. He writes: "The main aspect of the Torah is wisdom that by its very nature is there to teach others and if it is not taught over then it is a waste, because the essence of wisdom is to be given over to everyone." (8)

Similarly, the Mishna in Pirkei Avot states: "If you have learnt much Torah, 'al tachzik tova' to yourself, because that is why you were created." (9) The simple understanding of this Mishna is that a person should not be proud of his achievements in Talmud Torah because learning Torah is his purpose in life. However, many commentaries suggest a different explanation. They explain the Mishna to mean that if a person has learnt much Torah he should not keep its goodness for himself, rather he should teach it to others - why? Because his purpose in creation is to learn and teach." (10)

There are many ways in which a person can share his Torah with others; he (or she) can strive to develop chavrutot (study partners) with people on a lower level of learning. There are numerous outreach organizations, Yeshivas, shuls etc who are in need of people to take out a short time from their schedule in order to teach those less learned than themselves. A mere phone call to one of these organizations may be all the effort necessary to find a suitable chavruta. Moreover, one need not restrict himself to teaching people face to face; with the added technology available now, one can easily learn with someone in another country on the phone or other mediums. Furthermore, the written medium is another effective way of teaching many people at the same time by writing a short Dvar Torah on the weekly Torah portion or some other topic. It is also important to note that teaching Torah need not be limited to formal settings - there are countless opportunities to share Torah wisdom with others in one's daily interactions in life, whether it be with colleagues at work, with the taxi driver, or with friends.

We learn from the lesson of the Ben Ish Chai that in order to properly fulfill the fundamental mitzvah of 'Love they neighbor' one must strive to help others in spiritual matters as well as physical matters.


1. Kedoshim, 19:18.

2. Rashi, Kedoshim, 19:18.

3. See Maharsha, Shabbos, 31a, as to why Hillel stressed the 'negative' aspect of the Mitzva (how not to treat one's fellow) as opposed to the Torah's emphasis of the 'positive' aspect.

4. Divrei Chaim, quoted in 'Penini Ben Ish Chai, Kedoshim, p. 108.

5. Orchot Tzadikim: Shaar Nedivoos.

6. Avos: 5:20.

7. Mishnat Rebbe Aharon: Shaar Asiri; p.250 See also 'Yaarot Dvash' Drush 7 of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz; Introduction to Shaar Yosher of Rav Shimon Shkop for similar approaches to the centrality of giving to others in one's life with special emphasis on giving in ruchniut.

8. Maharal: Chiddushei Aggados 23b. Also see Netiv Torah Ch.8 for a lengthier discussion of this topic.

9. Avos, 2:9.

10. Avos, 2:9: Medrash Shmuel. See Medrash David, Lev Eliyahu, Parshas Tazria-Metzora for an identical explanation. It was also heard from R.Zev Leff in the name of the Klausenberger Rebbe.



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