Loving your neighbour
In this week’s portion we read the famous words that are running on every Jews mouth. ואהבת לרעך כמוך – you should love your neighbour as you love yourself. In fact, the Parasha is overflowing with commandments between man and his friend and it is essential for every Jew to follow in these ways. Rabbi Akiva says that this rule is the most general in the whole Torah. Similarly, the Gemara in Shabbat (31a) brings a story of someone who approached Hillel and asked him to teach him the whole Torah whilst standing on one leg. Hillel told him “whatever you don’t like done to you, don’t do to others. That is the whole Torah”. The Kli Yakar asks that the Gemara in Makkot (24a) says the whole Torah boils down to one general idea – faith in Hashem. Why are we being told that loving your neighbour is essential? The Kli Yakar answers that it is well known that the entire Torah is split two ways: 1) commandments between man and Hashem. 2) Commandments between man and man. The main focus of ‘man to G-d’ commandments is faith in Hashem and the main focus of ‘man to man’ commandments loves your neighbour.
Rav Moshe Shapiro asks that the second set, man to man, is also another way of connecting to Hashem and bonding, so in essence they are also between man and Hashem, why should there be a second group? Rav Shapiro continues that if you want to suggest that there are also sub-categories of serving Hashem, and then there should be many more sub-categories such as man to his land, man to his animals etc. and no such sub-categories exist. What is it that makes commandments of man and man synonymous to serving Hashem?
The answer can be understood in the following parable. When a person begins driving, he has to learn all the rules of the road, how to manoeuvre the car, how to follow all instructions of signs etc. Everything has to be taken in and applied to at the correct moment and it is essential to get it right in order to ensure safe and successful driving. However, that can all be accomplished in an empty car park. When you add other drivers onto the road, it becomes a whole new ball game. One needs to anticipate, react and respond in according to how other drivers are driving as well. It becomes almost a whole new driving.
In avodat Hashem we have commandments where we must learn and follow all the rules that Hashem has given us and apply them to our lives. These rules are essential and primary in our lives. However, there is another level of avodat Hashem that is to follow the rules while others are doing the exact same thing. It becomes much more of a challenge as we have to anticipate, react and respond in accordance to other people. That is why we have two levels, one is connection with Hashem and the other is connecting without being at the expense of someone else. Other people’s feelings and opinions must be taken into account before acting the will of Hashem. It becomes almost a new avodat Hashem.
We are currently counting the Omer which is a somber time for the Jewish people as 24000 pupils of Rabbi Akiva died. The Gemara says that the reason they deserved the punishment was because they did not have respect for one and other. It is not enough to be learned and know the whole Torah. One also has to know how to treat and react to other people at the same time. May we strengthen ourselves in these areas and have the balance of serving Hashem and truly loving your neighbour.