Loving Your Fellow Jews

April 18, 2021

4 min read


Kedoshim (Leviticus 19-20 )

You shall love your fellow as yourself (Vayikra 19:18).

Rashi explains that this Torah portion was addressed to the entire assembly of Israel because it contains the greater part of the body of Torah. It is possible that “contains the greater part of the body of Torah” refers to the above verse. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva said that this verse is “the all-encompassing principle of Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4).

Rabbi Akiva's statement is sometimes translated as, “This verse is the cardinal or primary rule of Torah.” This is an inaccurate translation. Rabbi Akiva's words are that this is a klal gadol, which means “a great, all-encompassing principle” of Torah, and this has a broad implication.

A klal is a general principle under which there are many pratim (specifics). Each specific item must have the characteristic of the klal. If any specific item does not have the characteristic of the klal, then it does not belong there. For example, “animate objects” is a klal. A rock lacks the characteristic of animation, hence it cannot be classified under that klal.

One of the ethicists said that inasmuch as “You shall love your fellow as yourself” is the “great klal” of Torah, this means that it encompasses all 613 mitzvot, and that each mitzvah must partake of the characteristic of the klal. Every mitzvah must relate to ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew), and must contribute to ahavat Yisrael. Therefore, he concludes, if a person does not have an increase in ahavat Yisrael after the performance of a mitzvah, that mitzvah was not done properly. A properly performed mitzvah must contribute to ahavat Yisrael.

This statement was nothing less than shocking. I had considered some mitzvot I had done as being properly performed. My tefillin are top quality, and there were at least some times when I had proper kavannah (concentration). The matzah I ate at the seder was of the highest quality shmurah (supervision). The sounding of the shofar that I heard on Rosh Hashanah was without fault, and the esrog (citron) that I used for the mitzvah of the four species on Sukkot was free of the slightest blemish. I felt I had fulfilled these mitzvot properly. But I must confess that I did not feel an increase in ahavat Yisrael after these mitzvot. The argument that R' Akiva's klal necessitates ahavat Yisrael as an ingredient in every mitzvah is unassailable. Where was I lacking?

It then occurred to me that I was overlooking something I say in davening every day. Is it not tragic that we may verbalize without thinking about what we are saying?

Prior to the opening prayer, Baruch She'amar, there is a short Kabbalistic declaration of intent that includes the phrase, “I pray in the name of all Israel.” This is not the same as praying for Israel, which we do abundantly in the Amidah and other prayers. Rather, this is a declaration of intent that I am not praying alone, but that I wish to share my prayer with all Israel. Whatever merits accrue from my prayer are not exclusively mine, but belong to all Israel.

I found this same declaration of intent preceding the mitzvot of putting on the tallis and tefillin and the Counting of the Omer. Further research revealed that it is recommended that this declaration is recited prior to every mitzvah one performs.

If there were true unity among Jews, this declaration would not be necessary. Just as the mitzvah of shofar accrues to the entire person rather than just to the ear, so would the mitzvah of every Jew accrue to the credit of all Jews if they were united as one body. Alas, that highly desirable state does not exist, so we must make a declaration that we wish to share the mitzvah with all of Israel. Of course, all of Israel means without exception, and indeed, ahavat Yisrael should be without exception.

R' Eliyahu Dessler says that there is a common misconception that you give to whomever you love. The reverse is true: you love to whomever you give. When you give to someone, you invest part of yourself in him, and since every person loves himself, you now love that part of you that resides in the other person (Michtav MeEliyahu vol. 1 p. 36).

If we listen to the words we say and are sincere, then we can fulfill R' Akiva's principle. By sharing our mitzvos with others, we can generate love for fellow Jews.

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