The Love of God and the Love of Man
“‘Love your friend as yourself,’ Rabbi Akiva says this is a great rule in the Torah” (Beresheet Rabbah 24).
Collective and Individual
The above statement—although it is one of the most famous and cited sayings—is still unexplained to everyone with all its vastness. This is because the word Klal [rule/or collective] indicates a sum of details that relates to the above collective, where each and every detail carries a part within it in a way that the gathering of all the details together creates that collective.
If we say “a great Klal in the Torah,” it means that all the texts and the 612 Mitzvot [commandments] are the sum total of the details that relate to the verse, “Love your friend as yourself.” It is difficult to understand how such a statement can contain the sum-total of all the Mitzvot in the Torah. At most, it can be a Klal for the part of the Torah and sentences that relate to the Mitzvot between man and man. But how can you include the greater part of the Torah, which concerns work between man and the Creator in the verse, “Love your friend as yourself”?
That which You Hate, Do Not Do to Your Friend
If we can somehow reconcile the above words, there come the words of Old Hillel to that foreigner who came to him and asked him to convert him, as it says in the Gemara, “Convert me so that you will teach me the whole Torah while I am standing on one leg.” He told him, “That which you hate, do not do to your friend. This is the whole Torah, and the rest is its commentary, go study.” We see that he told him that the whole Torah is the interpretation of the verse, “Love your friend as yourself.”
Now, according to the words of Hillel—the teacher of all the Tannaim [sages during the early CE centuries], and by whom laws are interpreted—it is perfectly clear to us that the primary purpose of our holy Torah is to bring us to that sublime degree where we can observe this verse, “Love your friend as yourself,” for he says explicitly, “The rest is its commentary, go study.” That is, they interpret for us how to come to that rule.
It is surprising that such a statement can be correct in most issues of the Torah, which concern sentences between man and the Creator, when every beginner evidently knows that this is the heart of the Torah and not the interpretation explaining the verse, “Love your friend as yourself.”
Love Your Friend as Yourself
We should also examine and understand the meaning of the verse itself when he says, “Love your friend as yourself.” The literal meaning of it is to love your friend to the same extent that you love yourself. However, we see that the public cannot be like that at all. If it had said, “Love your friend as much as your friend loves you,” there would still not be many who could fully observe it, yet it would be acceptable.
But to love my friend as much as I love myself seems impossible. Even if there were but one person in the world besides me, it would still be impossible, much less when the world is full of people. Moreover, if one loved everyone as much as one loves oneself, he would have no time for himself, for it is certain that one satisfies one’s own needs without neglect, and with great passion, for one loves oneself.
It is not so concerning the needs of the collective: He has no strong reason to stimulate his desire to work for them. Even if he had a desire, could he still keep this statement literally? Would his strength endure? If not, how can the Torah obligate us to do something that is not in any way achievable?
We should not imagine that this verse was said as an exaggeration, for we are warned and insist on “You will neither add nor take away from it.” All the interpreters agreed to interpret the text literally. Moreover, they said that one must satisfy the needs of one’s friend even in a place where one is himself deficient. Even then he must satisfy the needs of his friend and leave himself deficient.
The Tosfot interpret Kidushin 20, “One who buys a Hebrew slave, it is as though he buys a master for himself.” The Tosfot interpret there in the name of the Jerusalem [Talmud] that “Sometimes he has but one pillow. If he lies on it himself, he does not observe, ‘For he is happy with you.’ If he does not lie on it and does not give it to his slave, it is sodomite rule. It turns out that against his will he must give it to his servant. Thus, he has bought himself a master.”
One Mitzva [Commandment]
This raises several questions: According to the aforesaid, we all sin against the Torah. Moreover, we do not observe even the primary part of the Torah, since we observe the details but not the actual rule. It is written: “When you observe the will of the Creator, the poor are in others and not in you,” for how can there be poor when everyone does what the Creator wants and loves their friends as themselves?
The issue of the Hebrew slave that the Jerusalem [Talmud] presents needs further study: The meaning of the text is that even if the foreigner is not Hebrew, he must love him like himself. And how could one explain that the rule for the foreigner is the same as that of the Hebrew, since “One law and one ordinance should be both for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.” The word Ger [proselyte/foreigner] also means a “residing proselyte,” meaning one who does not accept the Torah, except for retiring from idolatry. It is written about such a person: “You may give it to the stranger who is within your gates.”
This is the meaning of one Mitzva that the Tanna speaks of when he says, “Performing one Mitzva sentences oneself and the entire world to the side of merit.” It is very difficult to understand what the entire world has to do with this. We should not force an explanation that it is when one is half unworthy and half worthy, and the whole world is half unworthy and half worthy, for if we say so, we are missing the whole point.
Moreover, the whole world is full of gentiles and tyrants, so how can he see that they are half unworthy and half worthy? He can see about himself that he is half unworthy and half worthy, but not that the entire world is such. Furthermore, the text should have at least stated “The whole of Israel.” Why did the Tanna add the entire world here? Are we guarantors for the nations of the world, to add them to our account of good deeds?
We must understand that our sages spoke only of the practical part of the Torah, which brings the world and the Torah to the desired goal. Therefore, when they say one Mitzva, they certainly mean a practical Mitzva. This is certainly as Hillel says, meaning “Love your friend as yourself.” It is by this Mitzva alone that one attains the real goal, which is Dvekut [adhesion] with the Creator. Thus, you find that with this one Mitzva, one observes the entire goal and purpose.
Now there is no question about the Mitzvot between man and the Creator because the practical ones among them have the same purpose of cleansing the body, the last point of which is to love your friend as yourself, after which immediately comes the Dvekut.
There is a general and a particular in this. We come from the particular to the general, for the general leads to the ultimate goal. Thus, it certainly makes no difference from which side to begin, from the particular or from the general, as long as we begin and not stay neutral until we reach our goal.
And to Adhere to Him
There still remains room to ask, “If the whole purpose of the Torah and all of creation is but to raise the base humanity to become worthy of that wonderful sublimity, and to adhere to Him, He should have created us with that sublimity to begin with instead of troubling us with the labor of creation, and the Torah and Mitzvot.
We could explain this with the words of our sages: “One who eats that which is not his is afraid to look at his face.” This means that anyone who feeds on the labor of others is afraid (ashamed) to look at his own form, for his form is inhuman.
Because no deficiency comes from His wholeness, He has prepared for us this work, so we may enjoy the labor of our own hands. This is why He created creation in this base form. The work in Torah and Mitzvot lifts us from the baseness of creation, and through it we achieve our sublimity by ourselves. Then we do not feel the delight and pleasure that comes to us from his generous hand as a gift, but as the owners of that pleasure.
However, we must still understand the source of the baseness that we feel upon receiving a gift. Nature scientists know that the nature of every branch is close to its root. The branch loves all the conducts in the root, wants them, covets them, and derives benefit from them. Conversely, the branch stays away from everything that is not in the root; it cannot tolerate them and is harmed by them.
Because our root is the Creator, Who does not receive but bestows, we feel sorrow and degradation upon every reception from another.
Now we understand the purpose of adhering to Him. The sublimity of Dvekut [adhesion] is only the equivalence of the branch with its root. On the other hand, the whole matter of baseness is only the remoteness from the root. In other words, each being whose ways are corrected to bestow upon others rises and becomes capable of adhering to Him, and every being whose way is reception and self-love is degraded and removed far from the Creator.
As a remedy, the Torah and Mitzvot have been prepared for us. In the beginning, we are to observe it Lo Lishma [not for Her sake], meaning to receive reward. This is the case during the period of Katnut [smallness], as education. When one grows, one is taught to observe Torah and Mitzvot Lishma [for Her sake], meaning to bring contentment to one’s Maker, and not for self-love.
Now we can understand the words of our sages who asked, “Why should the Creator mind whether one slaughters at the throat, or slaughters at the back of the neck? After all, the Mitzvot [commandments] were given only so as to cleanse people through them.”
But we still do not know what that cleansing means. With the aforesaid, we understand that “Man is born a wild ass’s colt,” completely immersed in the filth and baseness of self-reception and self-love, without any spark of love for one’s fellow person and bestowal. In that state, one is at the farthest point from the Root.
When one grows and is educated in Torah and Mitzvot defined only by the aim to bring contentment to one’s Maker and not at all for self-love, one comes to the degree of bestowal upon one’s fellow person through the natural remedy in the study of Torah and Mitzvot Lishma, that the Giver of the Torah knows, as our sages said, “I have created the evil inclination; I have created for it the Torah as a spice.”
By this the creature develops in the degrees of the above-said sublimity until one loses any form of self-love and self-reception, and one’s every attribute is to bestow or to receive in order to bestow. Our sages said about this, “The Mitzvot were given only in order to cleanse people by them,” and then one adheres to one’s Root to the extent of the words, “and to adhere to Him.”
Two Parts to the Torah: Between Man and the Creator and Between Man and Man
Even if we see that there are two parts to the Torah—the first, Mitzvot between man and the Creator, and the second, Mitzvot between man and man—they are both one and the same thing. This means that the practice of them and the desired goal from them are one: Lishma.
It makes no difference if one works for one’s friend or for the Creator, since it is engraved in the created being at birth that anything that comes from another appears empty and unreal.
Because of this, we are compelled to begin in Lo Lishma, as Nachmanides says, “Our sages said: ‘One should always engage in Torah, even if Lo Lishma, since from Lo Lishma he comes to Lishma.’ Therefore, when teaching the young, the women, and the uneducated, they are taught to work out of fear and to receive reward. Until they accumulate knowledge and gain wisdom, they are told that secret bit by bit, and are accustomed to that matter with ease until they attain Him and know Him and serve Him out of love.”
…Thus, when one completes one’s work in love of others and bestowal upon others through the final point, one also completes one’s love for the Creator and bestowal upon the Creator. And there is no difference between the two, for anything that is outside one’s body, meaning outside one’s self-interest, is judged equally—either to bestow upon one’s friend or to bestow contentment upon one’s Maker.
This is what Hillel Hanasi assumed, that “Love your friend as yourself” is the ultimate goal in the practice, as it is the clearest nature and form to man.
We should not be mistaken about actions, since they are set before his eyes. He knows that if he puts the needs of his friend before his own needs, then he is in the quality of bestowal. For this reason, he does not define the goal as “And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” for indeed they are one and the same, since he should also love his friend with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, as this is the meaning of the words “as yourself.” He certainly loves himself with all his heart and soul and might, and with the Creator, he may deceive oneself, but with his friend it is always spread out before his eyes.
Why Was the Torah Not Given to the Patriarchs?
By this we have clarified the first three questions. But there still remains the question how it is possible to observe it, for it is seemingly impossible. You should know that this is why the Torah was not given to the patriarchs but to their children’s children, a complete nation of 600,000 men from 20 years of age and on. They were asked if each and every one were willing to take upon himself these sublime work and goal, and after each and every one said “We will do and we will hear,” the matter became possible, for it is clear beyond doubt that if 600,000 men have no other engagement in life but to stand guard and see that no need is left unsatisfied in their friends, and they even do it with true love, with all their soul and might, there is absolutely no doubt that there will not be a need in any person in the nation to worry about his own sustenance, for he will have 600,000 loving and loyal people watching over him so not a single need is left unsatisfied.
This answers why the Torah was not given to the patriarchs, for in a small number of people, the Torah cannot be observed. It is impossible to begin the work of Lishma as is described above, which is why the Torah was not given to them.
All of Israel Are Responsible for One Another
In light of the above, we can understand a perplexing saying by our sages who said, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” Furthermore, Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, adds, “The world is judged by its majority.”
It follows, that we are also responsible for all the nations of the world. I wonder; this seems inconceivable, for how can one be responsible for the sins of a person whom he does not know? It is said specifically, “The fathers will not be put to death for the children, and the children will not be put to death for the fathers; every man will be put to death for his own sin.”
Now we can understand the meaning of the words in utter simplicity, for it has been explained that it is utterly impossible to observe Torah and Mitzvot unless the entire nation participates.
It follows that each one becomes responsible for his friend. This means that the reckless make the observers of the Torah remain in their filth, for they cannot be completed in bestowal upon others and love of others without their help. Thus, if some in the nation sin, they make the rest of the nation suffer because of them.
This is the meaning of what is written in the Midrash, “Israel, one of them sins and all of them feel.” Rabbi Shimon said about this: “It is like people who were seated in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill under him. His friends told him, ‘What are you doing?’ He replied, ‘Why do you care? Am I not drilling under me?’ They replied, ‘The water is rising and flooding the boat.’” As we have said above, because the reckless are immersed in self-love, their actions create an iron fence that prevents the observers of Torah from even beginning to observe the Torah and Mitzvot properly.
Now we will clarify the words of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, who says, “Since the world is judged by its majority, and the individual is judged by its majority, if one performs one Mitzva, happy is he, for he has sentenced himself and the entire world to the side of merit. If he commits one sin, woe unto him for he has sentenced himself and the entire world to the side of sin, as it is said, ‘And one sinner destroys much good.’”
We see that Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, takes the matter of the Arvut [mutual responsibility] even further, for he says, “The world is judged by its majority.” This is because in his opinion, it is not enough for one nation to receive the Torah and Mitzvot. He came to this opinion either by observing the reality before us, for we see that the end has not yet come, or he received it from his teachers.
The text also supports him, as it promises us that at the time of redemption, “The earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,” and also, “All nations will flow onto Him,” and many more verses. This is the reason he conditioned the Arvut on the entire world, to tell you that an individual, too, cannot come to the desired goal by observing Torah and Mitzvot, if not through the assistance of all the people in the world.
Thus, each and every Mitzva that an individual performs affects the whole world. It is like a person who weighs beans on a scale, and each and every bean he puts on the scale induces the desired final decision. Likewise, each Mitzva that the individual performs before the whole earth is full of knowledge develops the world so it will come to this.
It is said, “And one sinner destroys much good,” since through the sin he commits, he reduces the weight on the scale, as though that person took back the bean he had put on the scale. By this, he turns the world backward.
Why Was the Torah Given to Israel?
Now we can answer the question why the Torah was given to the Israeli nation without the participation of all the nations of the world. The truth is that the purpose of creation applies to the entire human race, none excluded. However, because of the lowliness of the nature of creation and its power over people, it was impossible for people to be able to understand, determine, and agree to rise above it. They did not demonstrate the desire to relinquish self-love and come to equivalence of form, which is Dvekut with His attributes, as our sages said, “As he is merciful, so you are merciful.”
Thus, because of their ancestral merit, Israel succeeded, and over 400 years they developed and became qualified, and sentenced themselves to the side of merit. Each and every member of the nation agreed to love his fellow man.
Being a small and single nation among seventy great nations, when there are a hundred gentiles or more for every one of Israel, when they had taken upon themselves to love their fellow person, the Torah was then given specifically to qualify the Israeli nation, to qualify itself.
However, by this the Israeli nation was to be a “passage.” This means that to the extent that Israel cleanse themselves by observing the Torah, so they pass their power on to the rest of the nations. And when the rest of the nations also sentence themselves to the side of merit, the Messiah will be revealed, whose role is not only to qualify Israel to the ultimate goal of Dvekut with Him, but to teach the ways of the Creator to all the nations, as it is written, “And all nations will flow unto Him.”