What is the Golden Rule?
ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha (Levit. 19:18) (‘love your friend as [you love] yourself’ (Rashbam); or, ‘love [and so look after] that which is your fellow’s as your own’ (R’ A. ibn Ezra, Ramban); or, ‘if you do so [not take revenge or bear grudge] you will love him as yourself’ (Chizekuni’s first interpretation); or, ‘you must love your neighbor as [you love] yourself’ (R’ A. Kaplan)).
Rashi: Rabbi Akiva said, ‘This is a major rule in the Torah’ - it follows that we ought to try very hard to know what the rule means so that we can follow it. As can be seen from the above translations that are based on the various commentators, this is not simple. It should be noted that though Rashi does not explain the rule here, elsewhere he does: lo tovey lo (Deut. 13:9) (‘Do not desire him’) Rashi comments ‘Do not desire him, do not love him, as it says ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha but this person, do not love; and again Rashi writes: If someone flouted the commandment written in the Torah ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha, and also someone who is evil – you may hate him (Prov. 3:30). In both comments Rashi is restricting the rule to people who are not evil.
Rashbam argues that the rule applies only ‘if he is re’acha – if he is good, but not if he is evil, as it says yir’at hashem senot ra (Prov. 8:13) (‘the fear of G -d is the hatred of evil’), i.e. re’a is a person you find to be good, hence I have translated re’acha ‘your friend.’ Although Rashbam is the only commentator (in Torat Haim) who deals directly with the word re’acha the other commentators do not necessarily disagree, and perhaps ‘friend’ would be the consensus translation. I have used ‘fellow’ as a neutral word. R’ A. Kaplan’s use of the traditional translation ‘neighbor’ requires justification; the Hebrew term re’acha clearly implies a relationship beyond simple proximity.
Why is re’acha introduced by the prefix le-, rather than by the sign of the accusative et?
R’ A. ibn Ezra and Chizekuni and perhaps Sforno address this question. R’ A. ibn Ezra writes ‘Many maintain that this is an additional Lamed like the Lamed of le’avner (2 Sam. 3:30), but in my opinion it should be taken literally that one should love that which is good for one’s fellow as one loves one’s own soul’; i.e. lere’acha (‘that which is your fellow’s’).
Ramban writes haflaga (‘exaggerated language’) for he argues it is psychologically impossible to love another person as one loves oneself and furthermore R’ Akiva taught your life takes precedence over the life of your fellow (and it is unthinkable that R’ Akiva should contradict an explicit verse in the Torah). But the commandment of the Torah is that one should love one’s fellow in all matters as one loves one’s own soul with all benefits.... Scripture is negating jealousy and commanding that one should love the increase of well-being for one’s fellow as for oneself with unlimited love.
Rambam writes: Every person is required to love each and every one of Israel just as he loves himself as it says ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha, therefore one should speak well of him and be concerned for his goods as one is for one’s own, and cares for one’s own honor, and he who obtains honor by denigrating his fellow has no share in the world to come (Hil. Deot, 6:3). However elsewhere he writes: It is a positive Mitzva ordained by the Sages, to visit the sick, comfort the mourners, remove the dead, help the bride, accompany visiting wayfarers, perform all the needs for burial: carry on the shoulder, go before him to eulogize, dig and bury; and also to make bridegroom and bride happy, and help them in all their needs; these are the rendering of physical kindnesses which have no limit. Even though all of these Mitzvot are rabbinical injunctions they are included in ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha - all matters that you wish that others do for you, do them to your fellow who observes Torah and Mitzvot (Hil. Avel, 14:1). The two statements require reconciliation. Does the Mitzva to help have its origin in the Torah or is it of Rabbinical standing? R’ Ezra, my son, pointed out that in the first statement Rambam includes a rather minimal level of kindness not including taking positive action: it would seem that Rambam is laying down that this is decreed by the Torah as the least due to ‘each and every one of Israel;’ while in the second statement Rambam is making much more wide-ranging demands, which he says are enactions by the Sages as an extension of the same rule. It seems that Rambam maintains that the Sages decreed these as due only to ‘your fellow who observes Torah and Mitzvot.’ If so, Rambam, like the commentators, is restricting the meaning of the verse.
R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (Netziv) of Volozhin in his commentary on our verse writes: It cannot be interpreted according to its plain meaning for as is well known your life has preference to the life of your fellow, and Rambam explained (in Hil. Avel, Ch. 14), ‘matters that you wish that others do for you,’ and it is self evident that Man will not expect his fellow to love him as himself, rather they relate according to their closeness and normal behavior, and you are obliged to love people the same way. Accordingly the rule should be understood in light of the previous prohibition lo tikom velo titor et benei amecha (ibid.) (‘You shall not revenge or bear grudge against the children of your people’), just as you desire that if you dealt badly with someone that they should not take revenge, but pass over your evil, so you should deal with your fellow, that is how the connection (of the parts of the verse) is explained according to Rambam. However, from the Yerushalmi (T.J. Nedarim, 9:4), I [Netziv] have learnt another explanation to the connection [between these two parts of the verse]. It says, lo tikom velo titor et benei amecha … revenge against one’s fellow is similar to someone who is cutting meat and carelessly one hand cuts the other; would one think that the cut hand should take revenge on the first hand and smite it? Similarly ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha negates taking revenge. Even though one’s own life and well-being have preference to that of one’s fellow he should regard the other as part of himself, as all Israel are one soul! This is an unrestricted interpretation.
I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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