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Parshas Achrei Mos - Kedoshim

by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

"And you shall love you fellow man as yourself, I am Hashem" (Vayikra 19:18)

There is much to be learned from the words "V'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha". As R' Akiva said "Zeh klal gadol baTorah" - this is the great principle of the Torah. Indeed, this popular passuk is the focus of considerable attention but sometimes we tend to overlook it's conclusion - I am Hashem. What is the Torah adding to the mitzva of ahavas Yisrael with these words?

The Chafetz Chaim asks another question. The passuk begins "You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge and you shall love your fellow man" . The Torah appears to be saying that one may not retaliate when they have been harmed, nor bear a grudge and instead one must love the aggressor as oneself. This is clearly a difficult mitzva to fulfil.

The Chafetz Chaim explains with a mashal (parable). Reuven once had a dispute with Shimon and as a result, he became his bitter enemy. Some time later, Reuven saw Shimon with one of the Gedolei Hador (Great Torah Leaders) and the Gadol treated Shimon with the greatest honour and respect. Reuven thought that either he himself must be the guilty party in their dispute (or at the very least, Shimon had not intended to harm him, that it was merely an accident, for otherwise why should a tzaddik honour Shimon so?) or alternatively Shimon is fooling this Gadol. These doubts might cause his hatred for Shimon to abate somewhat. If Eliyahu Hanavi would then appear to Reuven and reveal to him that some of the greatest Rishonim, Rashi, Tosafos and the Ramban, all enjoy a personal relationship with Shimon, surely Reuven would realise he must have been in the wrong. The Rishonim would be able to perceive Shimon's true nature. If they considered Shimon an upright individual, then certainly their perception could be trusted. And what if Eliyahu added that the Tanaim of the Mishna, R' Meir and R' Yehuda praised Shimon as a trustworthy person? Finally, if Eliyahu would tell Reuven that HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Himself loved Shimon, Reuven would regret any animosity he felt towards Shimon. It was only Reuven's self interest that caused him to think he was right. Shimon meant no harm and only accidentally hurt him. How can one possibly think evil of anyone who is loved by Hashem?

The Chafetz Chaim writes that this is actually true. Every Jew is beloved of Hashem for we are His children. Therefore the Torah concludes the passuk with "I am Hashem" - Who loves all of you. You must likewise love your fellow Jew and not bear any ill will one for another.

The Gra (Shir HaShirim 5:2) writes that a higher form of love is to love someone because of their noble character. This idea can add another dimension to the understanding of our passuk. Man was created b'tzelem Elokim, in the image of G-d. This is why we can be considered as His children and the fact that He bequeathed to us the precious Torah is evidence of our close relationship. Furthermore, we are literally children of the Avos (forefathers) and have inherited their fine middos (character traits). Therefore the Torah adds the words "I am Hashem" to emphasise the importance of loving the G-dliness that is inherent in Hashem's children as part of their spiritual and physical heritage.

The Meshech Chachma explains that this idea is actually included in the word "kamocha" - as yourself. The Torah is not only referring to how much you should love you neighbour, but also how come. You should love another Jew because he is "kamocha" - similar to you. He is also created b'tzelem Elokim, and is one of Hashem's beloved children with the potential to rise to great heights. One who strives to refine his own character and appreciates spirituality will naturally love another who also represents these ideals even if only in potential.

How does one acquire this level of love, to perceive the greatness of his fellow Jew? - through learning Torah. The Sifri writes (Devarim, 6:5) that through toiling in Torah we become attached to Hashem and can perceive at least some of His awesomeness. The more we recognise the greatness of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the more we can appreciate His children. Also when we see the beauty of the Torah, we catch a glimpse of the beauty of the Am Hashem, Hashem's nation. As it says in the daily prayers (U'Va L'Tzion) "V'nasan lanu Toras emes, v'chayei olam nata b'socheinu" - He gave us the Torah of truth and implanted eternal life within us. We know that each Jew is represented by one letter in the Torah and that each of the 248 mitzvos asei (positive commandments) correspond to one of the 248 limbs of the human body. Perhaps this is the meaning of R' Akiva's statement, "This is the great principle of the Torah". After one toils in Torah and sees it's beauty, they will come closer to Hashem and appreciate the qualities of their fellow man as a physical embodiment of the Torah . They will perceive the "I am Hashem" inherent in every person.

(This explanation also sheds light on the famous dialogue between Hillel and the ger (Shabbos 31a). A potential ger asked Hillel to be taught the entire Torah on one foot. He was certainly not mocking Torah for Hillel answered him in all seriousness. The would-be convert knew he was about to embark on a challenging odyssey, to learn the Torah and observe it's precepts, and he sought a guiding principle that conceptually incorporated the entire Torah (see Maharsha, there). To this Hillel responded "What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary - go and learn it". When one learns Torah and observes it's mitzvos, they gain an appreciation of the mitzva of ahavas Yisrael. Thus the entire Torah is a commentary and explanation of v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha.)

May we be worthy to learn Hashem's Torah and cling to His ways. May this in turn help us to recognise the G-dliness of each Jew and their lofty status as a child of Hashem. These are the stepping stones to fulfilling the imperative to love our fellow Jew wholeheartedly.

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