A cruel husband once approached his wife and told her “I’m the boss and you’re nothing.” She instantly replied, “Well I guess then… that makes you the boss of nothing!”
How much wisdom was captured in those few lines and wasted on a joke. The wife’s response didn’t deny that he was the boss – in fact, she readily agreed with him. She merely explained to him over what he was the boss. In other words, if you treat a wife like she’s nothing, then you are the boss of nothing. Treat her like a person then you are the boss of a person. Treat her like a queen, and then you are the boss of a queen – that is a King. Would you like to be a king? Fine – just treat her like a queen!
In this week Parasha we read one of the most famous statements that have resounded for generations – “VeAhavta LeReacha Kamocha – you should love your neighbour like yourself”. So famous is this statement that Rabbi Akiva said this is a Klal Gadol BaTorah – a great rule in the Torah.
This is a profound Mitzvah. We all love ourselves, very very much! The Torah seems to command that we take that same love and focus it on all those around us.
Yet the Ramban finds this hard to accept. How can it be that you should love your friend equally to yourself? There is a rule in the Gemara: “Chayecha Kodmin” – Your life takes precedence.
The Gemara Bava Metziah (62a) raises a scenario of two people in the desert one of whom finds a canteen with enough water to keep only one person alive. The one who has it uses it, and is not supposed to give it to his friend but must rather tend to his own life first. It seems he must love himself more than others!
Thus, asks the Ramban, how can it be that we’re instructed here to love a friend equally to our love for our self, when we know that the Torah supports a person’s survival instinct and says that ultimately your own life comes first? What is the real meaning of VeAhavta LeReacha KaMocha?
The Ramban explains that the Torah is commanding us here to love our friends also, in a similar way (Kamocha) that we love ourselves. The Ramban takes the phrase Kamocha as an overstatement for emphasis. That desire that we have regarding ourselves, to live and be well, should carry over to others. The Ramban supports his view by the fact that Torah doesn’t say “et reacha”, rather “lereacha.” LeReacha means towards your friend, but not exactly the same. We know that we cannot be expected to love the neighbour as much as we love ourselves. However, we are expected to love them in all areas, just as we love all good for ourselves. Similarly the Rambam (Mada 6:3) writes that we should speak in praise of our neighbours and be careful with the honour and the property of others – as we are with our own.
VeAhavta LeReacha KaMocha is a very hard Mitzvah to complete. It is a constant Mitzvah, and requires much self inspection before applying it to others. We meet so many people in our daily lives, and we immediately form views about them. We relate to different people differently, yet we are told with one blanket statement – treat them all with love, put yourselves in their shoes and look out for their interests just as you would for your own.
The Chida writes that this Mitsvah is most manifest between a husband and wife. In the outside world, it might be easy for us to show our kindness, after all, everyone is watching, so we need to impress. Yet when it comes to behind doors that are when we are really being put to the test. When a man comes home from work he should not expect the dinner on the table, he should not view as the woman’s obligation, rather he should see it as kindness, she worked hard for it and spent quality time; he should put himself in her shoes. Similarly the wife should not take for granted the husband’s work, she should view it as Chesed.
We can now understand why this Mitzvah was placed in the Parasha of Kedoshim.
What does holiness have to do with loving your neighbour? Of course by doing the Mitzvah you bring unity and happiness but does that lead to holiness? The answer is that to acquire holiness two things need to occur. The first is to love your neighbour exemplifies in Ben Adam LeChavero and the second is to do it in a manner of Kedusha?
A true Torah-observant home is certainly most conducive to the Divine Presence. However, we should remember that as important as observance of Mitsvot is, it is possible as Ramban says (19:2) for a person to be in technical compliance with every halachic requirement, and nevertheless be a vulgar person. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 13:3) states that the Mitsvot were given to us for no reason other than to refine our character.
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was accompanied by a student and before entering his home, R’ Shlomo Zalman paused to brush the dust from his coat. He explained to the student, “The Talmud says that the Shechina dwells amongst man and wife. Do you think it is respectful to be in the presence of the Shechina with a dusty garment?”
If we were to approach married life with VeAhavta LeReacha KaMocha constantly on our minds, seeking the best for our partner as well as for ourselves, really understanding what they have been through that day, and infuse our relationship with Kedusha then we will ultimately become one.